Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - By Deni­son Rey A. Dalu­pang @son­rdINQ

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.” SanMiguelBeer 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 UAAPandNCAA.”

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

God­will al­ways ful­fill His prom­ise. You never know when but His prom­ise al­ways pre­vails. And I will be a tes­ta­ment to that PAUL 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.

Za­mar dis­play­ing a pic­ture-per­fect form for Black­wa­ter as he lives out his PBA dream.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.