One of the perks of having a PBA champion coach for a dad allowed Paul Zamar to hang out with the country's top pro players.
His dad, David “Boycie” Zamar, a member of the San Miguel Beer coaching staff, used to have Alex Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter come over for dinner at his house, and that’s when Paul took those moments as an opportunity to pick their brains.
“Si Marcio and si Alex, idol na idol ko mga iyon. Tini-take advantage ko ’yung mga knowledge na pwede ko makuha sa kanila, ’yung mga dos and don’ts sa paglalaro,” said Paul, who has regularly touched base with Cabagnot over the past few months.
According to Paul, Cabagnot offered some bold advice to him: “When in doubt, shoot. Never doubt yourself.”
The way he’s scoring for his mother team now, it’s evident that Paul has taken that advice to heart.
As the starting 2-guard for Thailand club Mono Vampire in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), Paul has been a revelation.
In 25 games for Mono, he is averaging 16.5 points on remarkable percentages (47% from the field, 87% on free throws, and 39% from 3-point range).
In Game 1 of the ABL finals against San Miguel Alab Pilipinas on Sunday, while dad Boycie watched at courtside, Paul ended up the second leading scorer for Mono with 25 points, tallying shooting splits of 64/100/57 and playing all but 2 minutes in a tightly contested overtime loss.
At one point, he swooshed in a Steph-Curry-esque 3-pointer from 2 feet behind the 3-point line, a range he developed by watching not the NBA MVP but another American player he personally watched when he was a boy.
“Idol na idol ko si coach Alex (Compton) nu’ng player siya sa (Manila) Metrostars. Very fortunate ako na nakasama ako sa mga practices nila,” Paul fondly recalled of the time when he used to tag along with his father, who coached Compton in the Metropolitan Basketball League.
“Nakita ko mag-shooting si kuya Alex, ang layo ng range niya. So ginagaya ko nu’ng bata ako, kaya nagkaroon ako ng obsession na tumira ng malayo. Sabi ko, ‘Oo nga, ano? Paano kung bantayan ako ng sobrang lapit sa 3 points? Ilayo ko kaya? Gayahin ko si kuya Alex.
“He was ahead of his time.”
Boycie acknowledged he was “surprised” by his son's long-distance shooting. When they met up at the end of Game 1, Boycie told Paul there’s room for improvement.
“I was quite surprised, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the result pa rin,” Boycie said.
“I talked to him as a coach and as a father. Sabi ko lang, ‘Nakita ko lang may mga lapses ka. Seventy-five percent for me OK, but then again you have to prepare more.’
“I will never be contented. I will never tell you, ‘OK iyong ganito, ganyan’ but babawian ko kaagad. It’s all about results. Kung panalo kagabi iyan, wala kaming pag-uusapan.”
Paul said he’s used to the straightforward talk from his old man.
“Never niyang binanggit na maganda nilaro ko. Always constant reminder na I can always be a better player, you can always do better the next game. Which is tama naman, dapat di ka makontento sa pinapakita mo every game,” Paul said.
“Learning should never stop anywhere. You strive to continue to get better every time.”
Boycie said he keeps it real with his son. Playing pro sports overseas where there's no such thing as job security requires toughness and focus for an expat to succeed, the father emphasized.
Paul lived those words in Thailand from Day 1; his survival counted on it.
“As an import, you should play night in, night out,” he said. “Under a microscope ka so anytime pwede ka nilang tanggalin. So ever since, tumanim na sa utak ko ’yun.”
Boycie isn’t dispensing life advice out of thin air; he lived and worked abroad for many years.
He had done the rounds coaching in Southeast Asia beginning in 2005 in Indonesia where he worked for 4 years. He had stops in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, coaching domestic clubs and leaving his mark in those countries by raising basketball’s profile in regions where football is king and hoops barely registers in the sports radar.
Boycie said that at the time, he left the Philippines to find a place where his knowledge of the game was needed.
In a market where there’s an oversupply of basketball teachers and practitioners, it was a tough realization but the right one.
“Bakit ako nag-abroad? Because nobody wanted me,” Boycie said. “Ganu’n din kay Paul. No takers para sa kaniya. So now that's the biggest motivation namin as father and son.”
After being chosen in the fourth round of the 2012 PBA rookie draft by Barangay Ginebra, Paul Zamar never got a chance to suit up. He took his chance in the second-tier D-League, but the team he played for that used players from Centro Escolar University chose to retain those from the school and cut Paul and others from its roster.
When Thailand sister teams Mono Vampire and Mono Thewphaingarm sent their people to the Philippines in 2016 to look for players to beef up their respective rosters in their country's top-level league, Thewphaingarm tapped Paul's services after Vampire grabbed US-raised point guard and former Division-1 varsity player Jason Brickman.
Paul said Mono Thew might have been enamored by his shooting. He said the team wanted him on board immediately. He debuted in the Thailand league in January 2017.
The transition necessitated some not so subtle adjustments.
Paul relied on a teammate who spoke English to be able to communicate with the coach in-game. When he had a chance to drive, he needed to adapt to right-hand-side cars. The food he missed the most? Crispy pata and sometimes lechon.
He said his salary is about “3 to 4 times” higher than what he used to get in the D-League, and of the condo he rents, he said, “maganda, you're well taken care of.”
But like most overseas workers, the thought of being surrounded by one’s loved ones kept him longing for his real home.
“Mabilis akong ma-homesick, ’yung ayokong malayo sa pamilya ko. Ang hirap. Na-experience ko first hand, ang hirap. Ngayon, OK na naman. Halos every month, binibilhan ko wife ko ng ticket para makapunta sa Bangkok,” Paul said.
Boycie said “never in Paul’s wildest dream” did he think he would play outside the Philippines. In Paul’s mind, the decision to pack his bags and venture into the unknown made sense, but his heart struggled to get on the same page.
“Sabi niya, ‘Pa, mabigat para sa akin,’ ” Boycie recalled of one instance as Paul was about to board the plane and leave behind his family.
“Sabi ko, ‘You have to take it. You have to accept it. Ito iyong trabaho na gusto mo.’ ”
Paul’s aunt, Boycie’s sister, is based in Bangkok so they got together on occasion. Paul also kept in contact with Catholic missionaries who were Boycie's classmates in his youth. Paul’s faith has kept him strong. Instant messaging apps and visits from his loved ones helped him to cope, too.
“ ’Yung experience very humbling. Nakikita mo iyong sacrifice na ginagawa ng mga OFW para lang ’yung family nila mabuhay,” Paul said.
“Di lahat fortunate dito sa Pilipinas,” he continued. “Di ko naman sinasabing mahirap ang trabaho dito. Merong mga unfortunate people na na-o-overlook or minsan hindi napapansin na napipilitan umalis. Humbling sa akin ang experience, di ko ite-take for granted itong experience na ito.”
Like many Filipino families forced to be separated because of work, Boycie said “the emotional factor was a tremendous thing” for his son.
Sentimentalities notwithstanding, Boycie told Paul he was confident in the one thing that mattered the most.
“You have no problem with your skills.”
When he joined Mono Thew, Paul Zamar didn’t let team management down.
From being an irrelevant squad that languished at the cellar for a few seasons, Thew reached the finals and went up 2-1 against Mono Vampire in their series, before dropping 2 straight and conceding the title in 5 games.
In one game during the tournament, Paul scored 52 points, although his team lost. (“Wala akong forced shot. Nasa flow ng game,” he said. “Basketball instinct na talaga. Minsan ’pag nasa zone ka, di ka na nag-iisip talaga.”)
Impressed by what it saw in Paul, Mono, a media and tech company located in Nonthaburi province northwest of Bangkok, transferred him from Thew to Vampire, which set its sights on participating in the ABL.
Performing on a much bigger stage, Paul did not disappoint. The team finished with a 14-6 record, good for fourth place after the elimination round, and went 4-0 to start the playoffs, including a sweep of top-seeded Chinese club Chon Son Kung Fu.
Mono Vampire coach Douglas Marty said the back-court partnership of Brickman and Zamar has been “critical” to his team winning.
“Jason’s our quarterback. Paul can swing between 1 and 2, great 3-point shooter, a lot of experience. And they play well together so we’re lucky to have both those guys,” Marty said.
In Game 1 of the title series against San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, Paul’s timely sniping kept Mono Vampire in it.
If 7-foot-4 center Sam Deguara hadn’t used up his fouls or Brickman not forced to leave the game because of a leg issue or Justin Brownlee’s free-throw ploy hadn’t played out favorably for Alab, Paul and co. could’ve been in a better position to steal Game 1.
“Na-foul out si Sam, nag-cramps si Jason, tapos ’yung talbog ng bola nu’ng free throw ni Brownlee. I-account din natin ’yung breaks of the game,” Paul said.
“Unfortunate sa amin, pero fortunate sa kanila.”
The ball may not have bounced Paul’s way in that one game but, big picture, he lucked out taking a chance in a foreign land and getting out of his comfort zone — if luck is really where preparation and opportunity do intersect.
“Kung susumahin ko ’yung experience ko dito sa Thailand, tingin ko rito ito ’yung parang second UAAP ko,” said Paul, a former University of the East (UE) Red Warrior like his father.
“Sa UE, we were making a name for ourselves. Since na-draft ako sa Ginebra, hindi ako naka-sign. Nag D-League ako for 4 years, di ako nakapag PBA, ganu’n katagal. Mahirap. So ngayon, nagkaroon ako ng second chance sa basketball career ko. Na-jumpstart uli.”
Boycie looked back at the time when Paul hit a metaphorical wall in 2016, just after the sudden halt to his son’s time in the D-League and right before the Mono opening fell into his lap, with no employment options anywhere in sight.
“Kung wala masyadong kumukuha sa’yo, you have to step up. Sabi ko, you have to make a decision,” the elder Zamar remembered telling his son.
“Playing abroad, that’s the best decision I think in his career.”
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