How two Mikes let Ateneo's Gian Mamuyac make noise on offense

For so long known for his defensive work, Gian Mamuyac is now offering Ateneo plenty in offense as well. PBA Media Bureau

Gian Mamuyac is the premier defender in the collegiate ranks - even, arguably, all of the amateur scene.

The Ateneo stalwart's 6-foot-2 frame, combined with his agile feet, long limbs, and great instinct, have drawn comparisons to Gabe Norwood. Just like Norwood, there can be no question whatsoever about Mamuyac's defense. Whoever's in front of him, will stay in front of him. Locking down an opponent has been his calling card ever since high school. He even blocked a triple try by Stephen Curry in an exhibition game when the widely renowned best shooter of all time came to Manila in 2016.

The questions, then, were always about the other end. Is he really the next coming of Gabe Norwood -- meaning, an elite defender who, with all due respect to the longtime national team captain, doesn't necessarily have a reliable jumper from mid to long-range?

From his time as a Blue Eaglet to his first three years as a Blue Eagle, the answer to that particular question was, put simply, yes. In his last season in high school, he shot 41.9% from the field and 62.2% from the line, while only totaling nine triples in 13 games played. He then averaged percentages of 38.9 on FGs and 63.3 on FTs, and collected 17 treys in total in his three years in the seniors division.

And so, the scouting report on Mamuyac just followed suit. Leave him alone. Let him shoot. That way, opponents can allocate more resources to Ateneo's higher-caliber offensive weapons such as Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto, or even Mike Nieto.

Fast forward to today, though, and those old scouting reports are just that: old, already. Foes can no longer afford to leave him alone. Foes can no longer let him shoot. He's shooting 39.5% from deep and 71.4% from the stripe. He already has 17 threes with one game left in the elimination round and ranks third in the league - yes, all of the league - in marksmanship, just behind teammate Chris Koon and FEU's Xyrus Torres, both identified as knockdown shooters. From a dead weight at the offensive end, he's now one of those doing the heavy lifting. Mamuyac is now an offensive threat. Mamuyac is now a legitimate two-way player.

Of course, years under the tutelage of Tab Baldwin has made it second nature for the 23-year-old to strive to be better each and every day. He took it a step farther, however, and made the most of all the time off during the pandemic just like he maximizes his long arms to envelope opponents.

"Of course, the trust of my coaches and teammates is very important. Extra work isn't the only factor for this," he answered in a mix of Tagalog and English, when asked over the phone about his offensive improvement. "But yes, once pandemic restrictions started loosening up, I wanted to have workouts outside Ateneo. There aren't that many basketball courts or skills coaches close to my home so I had to find a way."

A way is exactly what he found in good friend and longtime teammate Mike Nieto, himself an exceptional example of a player who became much more than what he originally was. Nieto was an inside operator in Ateneo HS before transitioning to more of a wing in college. He was a player who only took shot insides the paint as a Blue Eaglet who became a respectable marksman from distance as a Blue Eagle. Mamuyac was a firsthand witness to Nieto's development. Mamuyac, as he has been used to doing, decided to follow his captain's lead.

"After the pandemic, I told Mike I'm going to train with him. Twice a week from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., we were both improving our skills," he shared. "Mike lived in Cainta, I lived in Mandaluyong, so I had to travel really early to go there. I had to wake up even earlier, of course. I'm just happy that now, all those sacrifices have been reaping rewards, even just a little."

Mandaluyong, a city in the National Capital Region, is a half-hour drive away from Cainta in Rizal Province. If he wanted to be better, he had to start early, literally. Before the sun was up, he had to be up and at 'em. All that has borne fruit, however, and even his mentor in Ateneo could do nothing but acknowledge Mamuyac's hard work and how it has handsomely paid off.

"Certainly, evolution is a good word to use in reference to Mamu, in many respects, but we'll focus on shooting," stated Tab Baldwin after his brand new end-to-end weapon was unleashed to the tune of 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in a victory versus archrival La Salle back in the first round. "Players develop reputations, especially effective players, and Mamu has always been effective as a defensive player and he developed a reputation for that. But he's a professional young man and he doesn't just rest on the fact that he's a defensive player."

It's a welcome development that Mamuyac has rounded out his game through his very own effort, Baldwin and his staff's guidance, and Nieto's assist. As it turns out, however, there was another Mike who had a huge hand in pushing the Blue Eagle onward.

Mike Nieto's skills coach is Mike Oliver. That means that Gian Mamuyac's skills coach is Mike Oliver.

"Coach Mike has been refining my dribbling, my shooting, and my pull-up game. First and foremost, he polished my footwork heading into the shot. That was a big thing for me because it's only now that I realized dribbling isn't all about the hands, just as important is the footwork," shared the Ateneo guard. "I'm really enjoying skills training because not only do I get to work with coach Mike, I also get to get better alongside Mike and Matt."

Mamuyac, the Nieto twins, and Oliver go way back. The skills coach was the tactician for the national youth team that had the three young talents as key pieces. Their bond has only strengthened since then and just as he helped Mike Nieto round out his game en route to a callup to Gilas Pilipinas and a draft selection by Rain or Shine, Mike Oliver is now aiding with Mamuyac's advancement as a complete player.

"Our relationship, how we all know and love each other, made everything easier when I joined them in their skills training," shared Mamuyac. "I'm very thankful for all of them. I'm very grateful to coach Mike because even now I'm inside the bubble, I send him videos of drills I do after practice and he still comments. His teaching has had a great effect on me, on how I play now. I'm more comfortable dribbling, I'm more comfortable shooting because of him."

When before, he was quick to give up the ball when passed to, and was tentative to put up a shot even when open, Mamuyac now knows where his spots are. Open from beyond the arc? Launch a long-range missile. Defender in front, or coming to close out? Dribble right, get to the elbow, rise for the mid-range jumper. Without a doubt, he now has both the capability and confidence to make plays for himself, or even his teammates.

"The improvement in his shooting is very evident and that's because we really have the timing of his jump and release down pat. His ballhandling is also more controlled and smoother, when compared to before, he was dribbling too much, too fast," said Oliver of his new student. "But I'm not exactly surprised at how he's playing. We've been expecting it, actually, because he's just applying whatever we've been working on. I'm happy for him because he's now a complete player. Whether offense or defense, they can now depend on Mamu."

Dependable, indeed, is the word that best describes Mamu, as he's affectionately called by teammates and fans - and dependable at both ends nowadays, at that. Need him to cover Ricci Rivero or Jerom Lastimosa? Yes, he can. Need him to take, and make, a shot with the 24-second shot clock dying down inside the last five minutes of a close contest against National U? Yes, he can. All those happened, for real, by the way.

Mike Oliver is the architect behind this new and improved version of Mamuyac. The latter would have gotten nowhere close to the former, however, if not for the path paved by Mike Nieto. For Nieto, all this was all about continuing to do what he's best at: leading.

"Mamu was really dedicated in being a better player especially during the extended offseason. It was almost two years that they didn't play any basketball, so he made it a point to go to our place even when it was still early in the morning just to practice with us and improve more, especially on offense so he can help the team more," shared the Ateneo lifer who is now showcasing his skills for the Elasto Painters. "Honestly, I'm just proud of the way he's performing. We all know that hard work pays off and now we're seeing a more complete Gian Mamuyac."

Nieto was Mamuyac's captain for two years with the Blue Eaglets, a couple of tournaments with Batang Gilas, and then three more seasons with the Blue Eagles. The latter was then also firsthand witness to the legitimate leadership qualities of the former: how he brings the team together, how he keeps his teammates focused, and how he sees to it that each and every one of them buys into Ateneo's "next man up" mentality.

With Nieto gone, though, the reins of leadership had to be passed onto the most logical person: the next longest-tenured Blue Eagle in Mamuyac. Fortunately for the new regime, he got, and continues to get, an assist from the long-sitting previous leadership.

"I talk constantly with Mike. I never forget to consult with him, because we all know Mike Nieto was one of the best-ever players to be called captain," shared Mamuyac. "I'm just glad and grateful he's always there for me. Sometimes, I even think I'm already taking advantage of him because of all the questions I ask," he continued, with a laugh.

Leading a team -- a team defending a championship yet again, at that -- was just as big an adjustment for Mamuyac as doing more on offense. He was never a shooter. He was never a leader. Until now, that is.

"The pressure, actually, doesn't come from following a leader like Mike Nieto. It roots from my personality. I'm quiet and shy. I'm not vocal," he shared. "I'm a natural-born follower, not a natural-born leader. It's really another challenge altogether for me to keep the team together."

In post-game interviews, Mamuyac usually kept his answers short and sweet and straight to the point. While reporters could get quotes like "Let them talk about the greatest team. For us, we just have the record to show it. We just have three medals to prove it." from Nieto, the best they could squeeze out of the new Ateneo captain was something like, "We just followed coach Tab's system. We just played our game." In games themselves, Mamuyac was more often than not part of the chorus that answers, "WIN!" or "DEFENSE!" rather than the singular leader who yells, "WIN ON THREE!" or "LET'S GO, DEFENSE!" More than his offense, actually, this was the switch Ateneo needed Mamuyac to flip this year.

"I can't be like that anymore this year. I was always the one who just lets my seniors do the talking as well as the walking, but now, I'm one of the few seniors. I'm the team captain," he shared. "I can no longer just rely on others, because now, I'm the one being relied on. Especially our rookies and young guys, they follow what I do and where I go."

Little by little, Mamuyac is becoming the leader the Blue Eagles deserve. On the court, he makes it a point to be heard. True to his self, he remains a leader by example, but his voice has gotten louder. It's even gotten louder to the point that his teammates can hear it though he's already sitting on the bench. Actually, check that, he only seldom sits on the bench as even when subbed out, he's still standing and paying attention to the game, yelling words of encouragement or game plan instructions.

Best of all, his energy and effort remain and will never waver on defense. That means that none of the Blue Eagles could let themselves stay away from their discipline. At the other end, he's confident enough to never question whether he should take the shot, or make the play. That means that, put simply, Ateneo no longer has an obvious weakness an opponent can exploit.

"Our system has always been about equal opportunities for everyone. That will never change," explained Mamuyac. "This season, I'm just lucky that I'm getting opportunities and I'm converting them. That roots from defenses and their previous scouting reports on me is letting me shoot. The Ateneo system is all about producing the right shot in every possession. Again, I'm just lucky I've been making the right shot and the right play."

That doesn't mean, though, that the work is done now he's more well-rounded. While he wasn't necessarily a natural-born shooter or a natural-born leader, Mamuyac is, without a doubt, a natural-born competitor. Add in a sprinkle of Baldwin and his own fire and desire, and the Ateneo captain will never ever let up in trying to be better.

"I still have a long way to go. On offense, most of the shots I take feel comfortable to me. As long as they're good shots, I want to take, and hopefully make, them," he shared. "On defense, I want to keep my mindset that I will play aggressively. Only after that, the opportunities on offense, when they come, that's when I take them."

Offense didn't feel natural for Gian Mamuyac. Leadership didn't feel natural for Gian Mamuyac. What he wasn't necessarily born with, however, he built with his bare hands -- as well as a few more helping hands in Tab Baldwin, his coaches, his teammates, and "Two Mikes" in Cainta.