Juan Toscano

Oakland's Juan Toscano aims to inspire in push to make Warriors roster

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USATSI

Oakland's Juan Toscano aims to inspire in push to make Warriors roster

SAN FRANCISCO -- Warriors training camp invitee Juan Toscano walked along a white backdrop inside Golden State's practice facility during Monday's media day just like any other player. Like his new teammates, Toscano participated in a series of poses and mock dunks as photographers snapped photos. Towards the end of his session, a team staffer handed Toscano a Mexican flag, giving a special symbolism to the occasion. 

Toscano currently is one of two players of Mexican descent in NBA training camps this fall. An East Oakland native, many of Golden State's best and worst moments happened within walking distance of his immigrant grandfather's home.

Now, after an impressive career in Latin America, the 26-year-old is looking to make good on his NBA dream. 

"I was really nervous. I ain't going to lie," he admitted. "It felt surreal, just ... being in this gym, being in these facilities, seeing all these banners up."

The number 95 that rested underneath Toscano's Mexican flag Monday holds a special meaning for the forward. Four decades ago, Toscano's grandfather immigrated from Michoacán and bought a house on 95th and A Street, tucked in the heart of East Oakland's Elmhurst neighborhood.

Though mixed with African descent, he visited Mexico once when he was six, celebrated Mexican holidays and regularly spoke Spanish growing up. However, in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, Toscano lived a double life of sorts. 

"I just gravitated towards African-American culture," Toscano said. "All my friends are African American. So it was just like, I was Mexican at home, but in the streets or at school I was -- I am half black but that's the music; I listen to hip-hop, to black culture, or African-American culture or urban culture. At home we spoke Spanish, we eat Mexican food, celebrate Mexican holidays. I had both growing up, though." 

His life's duality manifested in the evolution of his name. As a prep star at Castro Valley High School, he went by Juan Anderson, lead the Trojans to a 30-2 record and a CIF NorCal Championship berth his senior year, averaging 16.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. He kept the name at Marquette, where he was a three-year starter with the Eagles. 

"I just always went with Juan Anderson," Toscano said. "I guess cause it was just simpler, and I guess more Americanized. ... On my birth certificate, it's always been Toscano-Anderson. You look in the school book, like the first day of school when they call, they always call Juan Toscano-Anderson." 

Following his college career, it was his Mexican lineage that saved his basketball life. After four years in Marquette, Toscano had zero offers overseas, let alone from the NBA in 2015 after his senior year. Then, on a trip to Charlotte to see his former coach Buzz Williams, he got a call from Mexican national team officials. 

Toscano flew to Mexico City just hours after returning home from Charlotte. By the end of the summer, Toscano was playing in 2015 FIBA Americas Championship, competing against NBA talent like Andrew Wiggins, J.J. Barea and Luis Scola. In a semi-final loss to Argentina, he tallied 10 points, two rebounds and two assists. Offers started pouring in soon after, causing another name change.  

"When I went to Mexico and when I got my passport, I had to play with Toscano because that's how I got my passport," he said. "Toscano was my Mexican name, so that's just what I use. That's what I put on my jersey. And I'm going to start in my career. So everybody in regards to the basketball world, everybody outside of the United States, know me as Juan Toscano." 

Stints in Argentina and Venezuela soon followed. But he flourished in Mexico, leading Fuerza Regia de Monterrey -- a squad in Mexico's top league --to the postseason the last two years. In 2018, he earned MVP honors, averaging 14.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists in 29.8 minutes per game. By 25, he was one of the top players in the league, making six figures and becoming one of the faces of Mexico's basketball scene. 

"They showed me so much love," Toscano said. "They were always offering to cook food for me, invited me over to eat, give me rides places. I didn't have a car out there and stuff, just everything man. They're real good people.

"I'm in airports, like I go on vacation and Cancun and Cabo all the time. So it was like when I was traveling through the airport, and it's not like two or three people stopping me to take pictures. Like, TSA started asking me to take pictures."

All the while, the NBA still remained a dream. As Toscano became a cultural figure in Mexico, he was on the phone with Santa Cruz Warrior Jabari Brown, his longtime friend.

As kids, Brown and Toscano dominated the Bay Area prep scene. Years later, Brown was encouraging his friend to keep his NBA aspirations alive.

Brown was also on another line with Santa Cruz Warriors assistant general manager Ryan Atkinson, who ultimately invited Toscano to a local tryout at the Warriors' former practice facility atop the Oakland Marriott last year. Alongside former Division I standouts, it was Toscano who stood out. Not heralded as a scorer, he was noticed for his energy. 

"I remember walking past and I'm looking," said Aaron Miles, current Warriors assistant and former Santa Cruz Warriors coach. "And I just hear somebody say, "I got ball!, I got ball! No, no, you go over there, and you sitting back!" and I'm like, 'man, okay. I like that.' I couldn't tell if he could shoot or not, but that stood out to me."

While Toscano impressed, he still didn't have a guaranteed spot entering training camp. Worse, he was forgoing six-figure deals in Mexico for a long shot to make Santa Cruz's roster. 

"I remember the first time we talked to him, me and [the Santa Cruz Warriors general manager] Kent [Lacob], we sat down, we talked to them and let them know, listen, ain't nothing promised here," Mile said. "We know you've got option up in Mexico to do things, but ain't nothing promised. And he said, 'Listen, I ain't ask for no handouts.'

"That was a lot of money to turn down. But like [Jabari] said, 'What do you have to lose?' I'm a local there. I have a passport, Mexican passport, so I can always go back. Thank God they love me there. They show me a lot of love. So they would always accept me with open arms. But like I said, man, sometimes you got to bet on yourself." 

Toscano made the team, going from benchwarmer to full-time starter by the end of the season, averaging 7.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. His performance led to a Summer League invite, where his energy caught the eye of the Golden State Warriors and a training-camp invite soon followed. 

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Growing up in East Oakland, Toscano saw Golden State's evolution from laughingstock to champs. He was in middle school when the "We Believe" Warriors shocked the NBA, and he finished college just as the team ended its 40-year championship drought.

Now, though a long shot to make the roster, he hopes he can be an inspiration to those watching him on the other side of the Bay. 

"I just want to continue to raise the bar for my people, he said. "My people here in Oakland, my people in the Bay area, and the whole country that's behind me. So is it pressure? Yes and no. Maybe I've placed that pressure on myself, but its good pressure, man.

"What's the worst that could happen, that they send me back to Santa Cruz? OK then, I'll keep working, one day hopefully they have a spot in this league. And if not, then it just wasn't meant for me. But if I can inspire one kid or two kids, or inspire multiple kids there, I've done my job. So that gives me a lot of satisfaction in just inspiring people and seeing kids look up to me, and I just want to continue to embrace that role."