Selected sixth overall by the Alaska Aces in the 1995 PBA Rookie Draft, Jeffrey "The Jet" Cariaso had a stellar career that started auspiciously by bagging the Rookie of the Year honors. After seven championships, 10 All Star selections, and four entries into the Mythical First and All-Defensive Teams, he called it a career in 2010, ending his stint after rejoining Alaska. He had his number retired by both the Aces and the Cola-Cola Tigers.
ESPN5 talked to the current assistant coach of Alaska to find out who were the toughest matchups of his career.
Cariaso on Offense
Cariaso was a handful to defend. He started his career by banking on his speed and ability to finish around the rim, which earned him his nickname. However, he worked on his shooting religiously and he turned into a 40% shooter from the three-point range midway through his career.
Because he was quick for his size, it took a smaller player with a lot of speed to make things difficult for Cariaso.
"Ryan Reyes was a great defender, Chris Jackson, when he gets switched on me was also a nightmare," The Jet started. "But, strangely enough, I'm going to mention a good friend of mine and a former teammate so I kind of regret the fact that I moved to another team because of this. The person who gave me the hardest time, defended me well, was Patrick Fran."
If Cariaso was a four-time member of the All-Defensive Team, Fran was not far behind with three inclusions to the elite squad.
"Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm saying I could have easily handled anyone else but Patrick is really the guy that sticks out because even if he was small, he was strong and he really can move his feet. I think him knowing me, playing together for a while in the PBA and even in the PBL helped him figure out how to defend me. So familiarity could have been an advantage."
After winning three titles with Alaska, Cariaso moved to the Mobiline Phone Pals where he became teammates with Fran. He later on moved to Tanduay before winning another championship in 2002 with the Tigers.
"I tried to drive but I could not get past him. He was so close to me that he could get to my outside shots. I tried going to the post but he was strong and the post was not really a strong-point of mine even if I could go there a little bit," Cariaso recalled.
"I remember a Finals series (2003 All-Filipino Cup) when I was still playing for Coke when we played them (Talk 'N Text). I think that was my worst performance in the Finals in terms of numbers because he made it so tough for me (Tigers lost the series 2-4, after winning the first two games)."
Cariaso on Defense
Cariaso was a proud defender. Throughout his career, what set him apart was his willingness to put the same effort on both ends of the floor. He was first included in the All-Defensive Team in 1996 and got his last stint in 2002, which just showed how long he remained as an elite defender.
One thing that made him an effective defender was his investment on the mental aspect of the game. He studied his opponents, looked for their weakness, and used it against them during the game.
However, there was still one player that gave Cariaso fits defensively.
"I'll have to say Bong Alvarez," Cariaso said. "He was just a special offensive player."
"With Bong, by the time I got to the league, he was still in his prime. He was a superstar and a veteran. The scouting report on him was to give him space because he was not that good of a shooter. So that's what I did. I give him space, expecting the penetration but it didn't matter. He'd still blow by me. When he gets the step on you, he's gone."
Alvarez was one of the most talented scorers in the league back then and even if Cariaso was younger, the athleticism of the player they called Mr. Excitement was still deadly.
"I tried my best to force him to his left but he'll use his body to nudge you a little bit and then go to his right. He uses the pump fake so well and because he has a strong body, he can carry you and get the and-one if you bite," Cariaso said. "He had so many weapons that he kept you guessing every single time."
Although Fran and Alvarez were great adversaries for Cariaso in his career, there was one player in particular whom The Jet considers his rival. He was selected three spots ahead of Cariaso in the 1995 PBA Rookie Draft and their careers would be intertwined from the start.
"Without a question, Kenneth Duremdes," answered Cariaso.
"He's kind of like my nemesis, a little bit. We never played together except for the national team and we played the same position. Every time I played against him, it was always a challenge for me and I looked forward to it."
After Dennis Espino and EJ Feilhl we picked up first and second by Sta. Lucia and Ginebra, respectively, Duremdes landed with a loaded Sunkist squad. Jackson and Bryant Punsalan were drafted ahead of Cariaso.
"On defense, he knew that, during the first couple of years in my career, I like attacking the basket so he gave me space and dared me to take a shot. But after that, I put in more work on my jump shots and that's when I think he had a more difficult time guarding me," Cariaso explained.
"When they were on offense, he knew I had the speed to slide and stay in front of him so he'd use a variety of fakes to see if I'd bite. He also went to the post. He's only a little taller than I am but he's used to posting up. He had a lot of moves, face up jump shot or back you down to score inside. In our first year in the PBA when he was playing for Sunkist, they won the first two championships against us in the Finals before we finally won the third conference (against SMB). From then on, it was always a battle. He brought out the best in me."