CSU's forward playing with a heavy heart

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Charleston Southern plays Wednesday night at Western Carolina, and for one player who likely won't garner a lot of attention it will mean more to him than anyone else on the court.That player is workhorse forward Paul Gombwer.His grit, his determination is evident, and his dream is being lived every day. "He's a very good ball player. he plays hard and with intensity that pales in comparison to the type of man he is. He's a real man. He handles himself on the court, off the court, like a man would. He's the most amazing man I've ever coached," said head coach Barclay Radebaugh. Man is the key word in defining Gombwer. He grew up quickly, leaving home in Nigeria at age 16 for a better life, encouraged by the parents who groomed him and wanted more for him. "I see teammates' families coming to watch them. I have nobody. It makes me feel left out," said Gombwer. However, knowing that while they don't see him playing basketball and getting an education, it's making his parents prouder than he'll ever know. "I'm the baby in my house, closer to my mom than anybody," said the CSU forward. That's why news in late 2012 hit Gombwer especially hard. He was half a world away when his mother suffered a stroke. "It got me down academically and basketball-wise," he said. "I met with coach. he talked to try and get me together. He asked if I wanted to go home. I said, 'No. Even if I go home, I won't be able to keep her alive.' I just kept praying that God would keep her alive until the summer." Those prayers were answered for Gombwer, who returned home to Nigeria after school finished and spent a full month with his mother. In July, he returned to school.Soon after that, he placed a call to Radebaugh the coach would never forget. "I was sitting in a gym in Orlando. I stepped outside and Paul was just weeping on the phone. I didn't have any idea what was wrong. When he was able to tell me, he had lost his mom," Radebaugh said. "She means everything to me," Gombwer said. "She's my world; she's my sunshine; she's my happiness. She means everything to me. Knowing for the world she's not here to talk to me, advise me, tell me what I need and don't need to do. It hurts me a lot."In North Charleston, Gombwer was upset and alone. "I called my wife, Hope. I said, 'Drop everything you're doing and go to Paul's apartment. You got to be there for Paul,'" Radebaugh said. "She spent two hours with him. We were able to get him home, got him on a flight the next morning. There's an NCAA rule that allows you to pay for a flight if you lose a family member. Our university stepped up and got Paul home."With CSU's assistance, Gombwer buried his mom. Then he rebounded, returned to CSU for the 2013 season. He was a new man, a changed man, with a new goal -- to play to remember."I say whenever I get on the floor, I play for my mom. Good or bad, I dedicate every game to my mom and honor her for being my mom and giving back to me," Gombwer said. "He's just an incredible person who has handled a difficult situation, just like we thought he would," Radebaugh said.

Talk about being able to relate, Radebaugh is the perfect person for Gombwer to lean on. Radebaugh lost his mother last season as well.

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