TWO weeks after helping San Mig win a third straight PBA championship, Jeffrey Cariaso now finds himself at the opposite end of the court when Ginebra face his former mentor Tim Cone and the Mixers in a keenly awaited match on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Prior to being named head coach of Ginebra, Cariaso was Cone’s chief deputy for three seasons since the multi-titled American PBA coach left Alaska for San Mig - a successful coaching partnership that produced four PBA championships and one runner-up finish.
Cariaso admitted that since Ginebra disposed of Air21, 84-76 last Tuesday, his mind has been preoccupied by the Sunday showdown against San Mig, a team he calls the “giant among the PBA giants."
“We’re gonna be facing the giants, or the pinaka-giant among the giants,” Cariaso told Spin.ph on Friday during Ginebra’s afternoon practice at the Reyes gym in Mandaluyong.
The soft-spoken first-year coach said it is tough to play against San Mig, which he said is solid in every position and has very little weaknesses.
“We understand their (Mixers) strengths but we will try to exploit their weaknesses and continue building on what we are doing,” the 41-year-old coach said.
Throw reigning Best Import Marqus Blakely into the mix and Cariaso feels Ginebra will have its hands full trying to defend against the Mixers.
“The past year, they have no weaknesses. We know we have to be solid in all aspects so this (game against San Mig) is gonna be one of our biggest tests this conference,” explained Cariaso, who is currently 3-0 in his first PBA head coaching duty at Ginebra.
Cariaso was still serving as San Mig’s assistant coach when the Mixers outlasted the Gin Kings in seven games in this season’s Philippine Cup. San Mig went on to rule the Philippine Cup after beating Rain or Shine in six games in the Finals.
Another championship in the Commissioner's Cup - Cariaso's last with the team - has put San Mig in a position to complete only the fifth grand slam in PBA history, a feat last achieved by Alaska in 1996 with Cone the coach and Cariaso one of its top players.