There was really little Alaska legend Jeff "The Jet" Cariaso couldn't do as a player. During his heyday, Cariaso could finish around the rim with his blinding speed while also putting the cuffs on the opposing team's main guy.
So it's not surprising that when the 1995 Rookie of the Year called it quits in 2010, his career was already littered with eight championships - including a Grand Slam in 1996 - Best Player of the Conference and Finals MVP plums, and four mythical first team and all-defensive team selections, respectively.
Cariaso, now tasked to spearhead the resurgence of the Alaska Aces as head coach, shared to ESPN5.com his best career moments.
What season or conference would you consider your favorite?
I can only choose one? You know it's crazy because if you allow me to bring up two, the first one for sure is my Grand Slam. That being my second year in the PBA, I was able to kinda be a part of a team that helped me become a better overall player and better professional. Kumbaga my time at Alaska especially that year really taught me many things on and off the court. But if you would give me another, it would have to be my year at Coca-Cola. So 2002 to 2003. I say that because that was when I felt everything came together where as a player wala na akong mahihingi. I was very happy with the contract I had that time. I played a big role. The Grand Slam year, I was more of a support player kasi second year ko palang nun. But my Coke year, you know, especially when we won our championship, that was me being the main guy. Everything just followed. We made four straight finals, we won two. Tapos lahat na nandun e. Winning. Great teammates. I was under a great coach, coach Chot Reyes. Kumbaga I described those year as kinda like the complete years of a player.
Cariaso played an integral role in Alaska's Grand Slam conquest in 1996 under head coach Tim Cone. In 2003, he reunited with Johnny Abarrientos on the Coca-Cola Tigers and won a Best Player of the Conference award and Finals MVP plum.
Is there anything you wish you could have done or achieved in your already decorated 15-year career?
Interesting. You have to understand not to mistake this and take it out of context because I was very happy with my 15-year career. But if there's something that I would love sana to happen was to me to be able to, during my national team stint, na at least nakapag medal ako dun. The last chance for me was 2002. I guess that was really a good year for me. That was our Busan stint where we lost to South Korea. Kasi in 1998 I got to go with them (national team) but I was the 13th man. Sila nakapunta sila sa stage and received medal. I never got one because it was only for the players playing. So sabi ko the next one I'm gonna get a medal. We weren't able to. We still had a chance even after losing to South Korea for third place pero I think us being so heartbroken yung sa semis, wala na kaming gana masyado against Kazakhstan for third.
In 1998, Cariaso was part of the 13-man pool of the Centennial team that went to Bangkok for the Asian Games and was the last cut. The team won a bronze medal. Finally he got a chance to play in the next edition of the tournament in Busan, South Korea.
Would you say being cut in the 1998 national team was the lowest point of your career?
I would say that it was very disappointing and for a moment, disheartening. Only because, you feel bad, you know? Kasi halos isang taon kayong nage-ensayo. We went to the States to prepare so you wanted to be part of that. The playing time isn't anymore a question but you just kinda wanna be on the court with the guys and know that you're part of the team. It was tough to handle, I'm not gonna lie. But again I told myself, flying back to Manila, once we get to Manila, I'm not gonna look behind me anymore. I'm gonna use this to motivate me even more. And I need to move forward. Hindi ko dinala yung feeling ko of disappointment to the PBA games once we arrived in Manila.
Cariaso, indeed, got better by the day and in the 2002 All-Filipino conference, he was named BPC. In the Reinforced Conference in 2003, he won Finals MVP after they beat the San Miguel Beermen.