Alaska coach Jeff Cariaso happy with Vic Manuel trade, eyes big man in draft

Alaska Aces coach Jeff Cariaso believes the trade that sent veteran forward Vic Manuel to Phoenix on Tuesday puts the team in a better position to acquire a young and quality big man, whom he hopes could contribute right away in the upcoming 2021 PBA season.

After over a month of back and forth talks with various interested teams, Cariaso felt Phoenix offered them a better deal at the end of the day.

"It's nice that finally, it's over because now we can focus on moving forward," Cariaso told ESPN5, shortly after the transaction had been approved by the five-man PBA trade committee. "I'm excited with having an extra first round pick next year, while it's also important that we are able to move up in the draft for the first round (this year)."

In the approved trade, Alaska acquired the services of backup guard Brian Heruela, along with Phoenix's 2021 first round pick (no. 6) and its second-round selection (16th overall), plus the Fuel Masters' 2022 first round pick. Phoenix also got Alaska's no. 7 first round pick as well as their second-round selection (19th overall) in the March 14 PBA Rookie Draft.

With Heruela, the Alaska mentor feels the stocky playmaker can contribute right away, given the maturity he saw from the former University of Cebu point guard.

"I really like Brian's work ethic, is very polite. He may be coming in to the team and be a surprise because he plays hard," shared Cariaso, whose team reached the quarterfinal round in the 2020 PBA bubble. "His skills got to be better through the years and I think he'll be a surprise gem."

Heruela, selected in the third round by Blackwater in the 2014 PBA draft, won four league titles while playing for San Miguel Beer. His journeyman career also saw him play for TNT, back to Blackwater in 2019, before seeing action for Phoenix last season.

As far as this year's draft is concerned, Cariaso revealed they intend to get a big man. "Looks like we're gonna get a big guy. That's what we consider in the top six (of the draft) and we feel (quality) big guys are available," shared the 48-year-old Alaska coach.

Cariaso said they already had a chance to invite La Salle big man Santi Santillan in the Aces' small group practices at the Gatorade Hoops Center. And so far, they liked what they saw from Santillan.

"He's the one that impressed us the most," Cariaso said, while mentioning they've also seen Fil-American forward Brian Enriquez during his recent workout with Alaska. "Santi is very skilled, is very comfortable in the post and around the basket. He's got the toughness to also play in the PBA and can move his feet."

Cariaso said they've already invited Letran big man Larry Muyang and 6-foot-10 former La Salle backup slot man James Laput for a workout.