Paul the apostle
The heartache hits hardest at 3 a.m., when a sudden surge of sleeplessness startles Paul Zamar into surveying the empty spaces around him.
As his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, the reality becomes clear.
“You realize you’re alone in your room,” said Zamar in Filipino. One by one, the emotions land blows all around him. “You miss your family. You miss your loved ones. You get homesick.”
He sometimes succumbs to phone calls to his dad, San Miguel Beer assistant coach Boycie Zamar, to pour out his feelings. Maybe this was the wrong decision. Maybe he should fly back home.
But he always manages to reel himself back to the same steely determination that made him leave home in the first place: There is a dream. And Paul Zamar, no matter how late, believes he can make that dream come true.
Zamar was a rotation guy at University in the East in the UAAP, a vital cog in teams that went to the Final Four and even the Finals of the country’s most prestigious collegiate tournament. Then the slide dreaded by those chasing a spot in the pros: UE dropped out of the Final Four race the next season and fell near the bottom the year after.
With the drop came the plummet of Zamar’s draft stock.
The 2012 Draft was the year of “The Kraken.” San Miguel Beer selected June Mar Fajardo No. 1 overall in a pool that included the likes of No. 2 pick Calvin Abueva, No. 3 pick Alex Mallari, No. 4 pick Cliff Hodge and No. 9 pick Vic Manuel.
While it wasn’t exactly a pool to remember, the class of 2012 had its share of talent, and Zamar was lost in the middle of all of them.
“So many other players were getting picked, some whose names I didn’t even know,” said Zamar. When finally he got picked by Barangay Ginebra, just as he nearly fell over the edge of hopelessness, it wasn’t relief Zamar felt. It was the sobering thought that his road to the PBA would be a long one—he just didn’t know at that time how long it would be.
The Kings were packed with guards in their roster: Ginebra had just acquired LA Tenorio. Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand were resident stars and Mike Cortez was also around.
Despite a relatively successful stint in the D-League, there were no call-ups. Thus, the decision to try his luck abroad.
“It was a financial decision. I had just gotten married [in 2016],” said Zamar. “Plus, every year that I wasn’t getting into the PBA, fresh talents were getting added from the UAAP and NCAA.”
Roster spots were getting fewer and fewer.
When he flew to Thailand, he knew he’d fall out of the radar of PBA scouts, but he gambled anyway.
And the right numbers came up when he rolled the dice.
Zamar had a career to remember with the Mono’s sister club in Thailand, highlighted by a 52-point game and a Finals appearance in the ABL against San Miguel Beer-Alab, which finally sent Blackwater management dialing his number.
Finally, he was on a flight home—for good. In between his Draft night and his first game in the PBA (against Ginebra, where before tip-off he got a congratulatory handshake and pep talk from Caguioa. “I didn’t want to let go of his hand. He’s my idol.”), was a circuitous path filled with D-League games, Thailand league matches, lost-in-translation basketball moments and wave after wave of homesickness.
He was 24 when he got drafted. He was 30 when he finally got to play his first PBA game, looking like a wide-eyed rookie before tip-off. He was drafted when President Aquino was in power and played his first game under President Duterte’s rule.
In between Zamar’s Draft night and his first PBA game, Fajardo had won four MVP trophies.
Now, when Zamar looks back to those long Thailand days, his eyes well up until they can no longer hold back the tears.
“I now understand the hardships our OFWs go through. They’re the real heroes,” he said. He got to bond with a lot of them with Thailand, and they eased his loneliness. “I became close with the Filipino community there.”
“I cried before I left and told them someday, we’ll be together again, when it’s your turn to come home.”
For Zamar though, Thailand needed to happen before he could play in the PBA. His stints there, particularly with Mono Vampire, taught him to grow up, “to be more mature,” to be responsible and prudent about his career benefits.
He drove to his guesting at Sports IQ, the Inquirer’s live multiplatform sports talk show, in a modest sedan, a far cry from the often shiny rides PBA stars prefer.
“It takes me from point A to point B just the same,” he said. “I’d rather save up for a house for my family, especially since my wife will give birth soon.”
Basketball-wise, it taught him the value of hard work, of making sure he continued to get better. He worked on his shooting during his stint in Thailand and it was his ability to consistently hit the three ball that earned him that call that booked him a flight home.
In a conference where Blackwater made the playoffs and had its best showing in franchise history, Zamar averaged a shade over 10 points per game, hitting 45 percent of his shots, including a 38 percent clip from beyond the arc. He has earned a player of the week citation and has made big shots to win games for the Elite.
Now, he imparts life lessons to anyone willing to listen. Lessons he learned as he chased his PBA dream.
“You will always be criticized,” he said, taking to heart what Mono teammate Patrick Sanders taught him. “It could be your father, your teammate your coach. But take those criticism to improve yourself. Because once you stop to improve as a player, that becomes you downfall.”
His faith has been renewed, too, and he takes time to always pray and be thankful for the opportunities he was given, the lessons he learned which he someday hopes to pass to his future son.
“You should always be faithful to your dream and be faithful to God. Because God will always fulfill his promise. You never know when but his promise always prevails. And I will be a testament to that.”
“Always be resilient because this world can be very cruel. If you don’t put up a fight, this world will swallow you whole. I think that’s a trait of every Pinoy. We’re all survivors. Put us in America, in the Middle East, anywhere, we will always put up a fight.
“Me, I’ve always fought for my dreams—to play basketball, to play in the PBA,” Zamar said.
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