PAUL Zamar was naturally hesitant in playing professional basketball overseas soon as the opportunity came knocking on his door last year.
The former University of the East gunner had second thoughts if exploring a basketball career out of his home country was worth being away from his wife and family. He had just helped Café France reach the finals in the PBA D-League title and was a top MVP candidate at the time, which he had hoped would lead to a PBA call-up four years after he was drafted by Ginebra.
But after his long D-League stint and age catching up to him, Zamar knew he had to take drastic measures before everything became too late – for the sake of his basketball career, his lifelong PBA dream and his family’s future.
The 30-year-old Zamar rolled the dice, joining Mono Thewphaingarm in the Thailand league that eventually led him to land a spot in the Asean Basketball League squad Mono Vampire.
Safe to say, the gamble is paying off for Zamar, who is one of 10 Filipinos hoping to revitalize their pro careers for another shot at making it back home in a congested professional basketball scene—like Asi Taulava did—or make a household name for himself in the region like Leo Avenido.
“Thankful kami sa ABL na binibigyan nila kami ng chance. Medyo masikip sa Pilipinas, sa PBA, kaya kami kailangan din namin maghanap buhay,” Zamar said, now as one of the most impressive heritage imports playing in the eighth season of the improving regional league.
“Hindi namin tinuturn down yung opportunity na makabalik sa PBA, pero for now, as players, gusto namin magimprove, makapaglaro at maging visible sa public. Okay naman. Binibigyan kami ng chance ng coach namin, although sometimes, di natin maiwasan na matalo, pero every game, binibigyan naman namin ng halaga dito,” he added.
The 5-foot-11 Zamar is so far enjoying the best stretch of his basketball career since leading CafeFrance to a D-League runner-up finish last year. Aside from PBA top pick Fil-German Christian Standhardinger, Zamar became the second Filipino this season to be named the Heritage Import of the Week after leading the Thailand-based club to three straight wins early in the season.
The former UE combo guard has also transitioned well into his role as Mono Vampire point guard, enjoying the freedom of running the team while putting up 16 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists—impressive numbers that could help him finally make it to the PBA.
“Pagdating sa paglalaro, mas naeexpose ko yung sarili ko dahil binibigyan ka ng konting leeway ng coaches na gawin mo kung ano ka,” Zamar said.
“Minsan sa Pilipinas, kailangan may sundin ka na system, although may system din naman dito, pero dahil import ka, kailangan magperform ka at ibigay mo yung 100-percent every game,” he added.
But things aren’t all rosy for Zamar, who struggles with homesickness as he rebuilds his basketball career away from the comforts of home, his family and friends. To soldier on, he finds solace in the basketball court and the weight room as he drowns his sorrow by working on his game.
“Syempre, pag na-homesick ka, patay ka diyan. Pero ako, nageenjoy ako sa ginagawa ko eh. Mahal ko yung basketball. Lumaki ako around basketball. Tatay ko, player, coach. Happy ako sa ginagawa ko. Siyempre, may tinatawag tayong downtime,” shared the son of Boycie Zamar, a figure who has been all over Asia both as a player and a coach.
“After ng practices… hindi mo na alam ginagawa mo. Wala ka nang kasama eh. Pero as much as possible, andito na ako, andito na ‘yung opportunity. Tinetake ko na lang bawat time to improve yung sarili ko,” he added. “After practice, mag-shooting ka, mag-weights ka, or mag-skills work ka. Andyan naman yung staff eh. Andyan din yung imports ng America na willing mag-share ng knowledge nila."
His father, currently an assistant coach for San Miguel, also gives him guidance on his game, which includes some constructive criticism, as well as some tips on dealing with life abroad.
“Yung maganda sa kanya, never niya pinapansin 'yung magagandang nagagawa ko. Lagi nya pinapansin yung pagkukulang ko, pagkakamali ko. Minsan di ka masyado nakukumpyansa. At least on your toes ka pa rin,” said the younger Zamar of his father.
Former Adamson star Patrick Cabahug, who suited up for Mono Vampire before moving to Westports Malaysia Dragons, has also helped make things easier for him in Thailand.
“Mga Pilipino na naglalaro dito, si kuya Patrick talaga ang nagalalay sa akin. Una pa lang, Mono Thew pa lang kami, sinabi na nya paano lumaro ang mga locals. Kung ano dapat ang laruin mo, ganun,” said Zamar.
“Yung father ko rin, niremind na nya ako na papunta ako sa Thailand, kailangan every game magperform ka kasi under the microscope ka. Yung mga Amerikano, dalawa, tatlong pangit na laro na, palit na agad.”
Without a doubt, Zamar has been proving his worth in the ABL, especially considering the level of competition now and East Asian teams coming in the league.
“Sa tingin ko di naman (demotion). May China, may HK, andun si Christian (Standhardinger) sa kabila, may Chinese Taipei. Kumbaga yung laro ng ABL, tumaas na. Nung dati, Southeast Asia lang. Nagyon pumapasok na yung East Asia talaga,” said Zamar.
“Magandang opportunity sa akin to mag-improve. Syempre pag every day Pilipino kalaro mo Pilipino, kumportable ka na. At least dito, mate-test mo yung sarili mo kung saan ka na.”
Still, the goal remains the same for the Gin Kings’ fourth round pick in the 2012 draft--to make his way back home to his family and suit up in the PBA. It’s a dream within his reach if he continues his stellar play for Mone Vampire.
“Unang-una, home is where the heart is. Syempre, andun yung family ko, yung wife ko. Mahirap din dito sa abroad—na magisa ka sa kwarto mo. Minsan, madalaing araw magigising ka, magugulat ka sa kwarto mo na mag-isa ka. Mahirap, malungkot,” Zamar continued.
“If may chance talaga na makapag PBA, iga-grab ko yun. But for now, I’m thankful sa opportunity na na naaexpose ako dito sa Mono. Concentrate muna ako rito.”