MANILA -- How many PBA third round picks in the last few years have held down their jobs?
Since 2012, there have only been four players: Karl Dehesa from that aforementioned year; LA Revilla from 2013; and Paolo Taha from 2015.
And there’s Anjo Caram who was drafted 26th overall, two spots after Revilla, by the Meralco Bolts.
Sometimes players fall all the way down because the draft is just too deep. Sometimes they’re just ignored. But save for Taha, the three have proven to be revelations. Dehesa was a massive revelation with Kia/Mahindra playing alongside Revilla who will no doubt go on to have a long career in the pros.
Caram? Along with Emman Monfort, they are poster boys for small ballers with pro basketball aspirations.
In Game 5 against the Alaska Aces for the right to advance to the PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals, Caram was huge. He pulled down a huge defensive board and stuck a couple of crucial baskets in the last minutes of play; one of them a huge drive on the Aces’ Rob Dozier. Despite the heroics of several players, the Bolts were knocked out of contention. While there was elation at how they turned around a terrible Philippine Cup outing that saw them win only one match, the loss stung.
The loss aside, Caram has learned to take them in stride. Having to earn things in life is nothing new to the 5-foot-7 lad.
Growing in Iloilo and playing for St. Joseph’s school, the goal was to get to college in Manila. If there was a chance to go to the PBA, that was a bonus. “When I first came to San Beda, we had a lot of point guards. I really had to work hard and fight for my spot. Even with limited minutes, my goal was to make an impact so I can help the team win.”
While playing for San Beda in college, his teams hardly lost. In fact, during his five years in Mendiola, four seasons ended with a NCAA championship (the one time they lost was during his freshman year when they were upset by Calvin Abueva’s San Sebastian Stags).
Now two years in the pro ranks, he’s tasted more losses in one season than in his entire career with the Red Lions. “I’m just grateful to be given a chance,” he says while noting the difference between the amateur and pro ranks.
His father, Ramon, played local ball and had dreams of playing in the PBA. It is through his son now that he gets to live his dream.
“I was nervous because it was always my dream to play in the PBA,” recalls the young Caram about draft day on November 3, 2013 at the Robinson’s Midtown Manila. "I wasn’t sure if there was a team that would be interested in me after all, this was a deep draft with big name players. I just wanted my name to be called. I didn’t care what round just as long as my name was called. I am thankful and happy that Meralco gave me the chance to make my dream come true."
Getting drafted was one thing but holding down a roster spot is altogether another matter. “I have to work really hard and prove to the coaches that I can compete with the bigger guys in practice,” he says.
He isn’t alone. Along with another bantam-sized point guard in Emman Monfort who created waves in his years with Barako and Ginebra, Caram is making a case for the small guys.
"I always believe that despite our height or lack of it, there is also an advantage because we are quicker and faster so we should use that to make a difference,” he explains. "I want to be an inspiration to other aspiring players that even if we aren’t tall, we can compete and have a long career in the PBA.”
Bolts assistant coach Jamike Jarin, who is also head coach of the Red Lions but didn’t have Caram under his wing, has good words to say about the point guard.
“When you think about it, his chances of making it — especially in the pros — are small; no pun intended. Anjo is the product of all heart. He has the biggest heart which is why he has succeeded. He never goes into a situation where he demands something because he’s won in college. No, he works hard and has earned his place.”
During the semifinals series with Alaska, Caram logged more minutes than Baser Amer, his teammate at San Beda and now Meralco while scoring 6.2 points per outing.
Added Meralco head coach Norman Black, “Anjo is a very tough player despite his size. He is physical and won’t back down. He is a guard who can pressure the ball defensively and has shown the ability to also score. His outside shooting needs to improve but he is young and a hard worker so you expect him to get better."
“It was a tough loss,” thinks Caram. “We were really close to making the finals but it is part of the game. We should look at the positive side. I believe that this experience will make us better individually and as a team and hopefully we will make it in the finals soon."