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El Viaje: JTA almost abandoned 'far-fetched' NBA dream

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  • Editor's note: "El Viaje: The Journey of Juan Toscano-Anderson" is a three-part series across NBC Sports Bay Area's digital, social, and podcast platforms, culminating in the full TV show debut on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 6:30 p.m. In Part 2, Kendra Andrews recounts how Juan Toscano-Anderson nearly gave up on his NBA dream.

Just how impossibly remote was Juan Toscano-Anderson’s NBA dream after he graduated from Marquette in 2015? He was playing in the SF Bay Area Pro-Am Summer Basketball League while looking for a job with a tech company.

“The NBA seemed so far-fetched to me,” Toscano-Anderson admits in Part 2 of "El Viaje." “I didn’t have anybody knocking on my door. I didn’t have anybody calling me. I didn’t have my name on any mock drafts.”

EL VIAJE, PART 1: JTA details his journey in proudly embracing Mexican roots

Toscano-Anderson almost gave up playing basketball in college before he ever entertained a road way less traveled to the NBA. He almost gave up every step along the way, but throughout, his perseverance, work ethic and passion not only got him to the Promised Land but to his ultimate goal of suiting up for his hometown Golden State Warriors.

Juan Toscano-Anderson graduating Marquette
Courtesy of Juan Toscano-Anderson's family
Toscano-Anderson always considers himself "realistic," and he was actively looking for a Silicon Valley job after graduating from Marquette.

Struggles at Marquette

Toscano-Anderson's mother, Patricia, had a very clear message for the colleges recruiting her son: Make sure he receives a good education.

Patricia remembers when a coach told her that his job was to prepare his players for the NBA. Patricia flashed a certain look at Toscano-Anderson from across the room, and he knew exactly what that meant. That school was a no-go.

The first time she met then-head coach Brent "Buzz" Williams at Marquette University, she laid it out to him plain and simple.

"We were sitting in Buzz's office and my mom goes, 'Buzz, I don't give a damn about basketball. I want my son to graduate college,' " Toscano-Anderson recalls his mother saying. "I looked at her like mom, I'm here to play basketball. But I was a 16-, 17-year-old kid."

 

The reassurance Williams offered Patricia was enough for her to give the green light, so Toscano-Anderson turned down the likes of Cal and UCLA, and moved east to Wisconsin.

His time in college, though, wasn't easy. He wasn't always happy at Marquette. He didn't like Williams' boot camp and went through bouts where he believed he wasn't playing enough and wanted to transfer.

Every time he called his mother, she told him the same thing: "We are exactly where God wants you to be." Toscano-Anderson didn't get it at the time, but looking back on his experience at Marquette, he's grateful for the hardships he went through and the relationships he made.

"At the time, in college, I wasn't [appreciative of those relationships] because all I could think about was me, my playing time and how much I wanted to play, and if I'm not playing, how am I going to make it to the NBA," Toscano-Anderson said. "Seeing how much Buzz cared for me off the court, it's gone a long way. He would challenge me, and I would call my mom and say, 'I don't know if I want to do this.'

RELATED: JTA reveals lofty goals for Warriors' season

"He would always tell me once I finished the boot camp, nothing in your life is going to be hard. I'm looking at this man like, 'Are you dumb?' But there is nothing I feel like I can't achieve or I can't overcome because mentally, physically and emotionally, that was the hardest thing I had to do in my life."

If you ask Toscano-Anderson today if he's happy he went to Marquette, his answer is a simple "sometimes." There are times when he wonders what would've happened if he went elsewhere, but at the end of the day, he ultimately got to where he wanted to go -- the NBA.

Juan Toscano-Anderson celebrating LNBP MVI
Courtesy of Juan Toscano-Anderson's family
Toscano-Anderson played for Fuerza Regia in Monterrey, Mexico, and led the team to two LNBP titles and won the league's MVP award in 2018.

Unusual path to Mexico

While contemplating that 9-to-5 Silicon Valley job and dominating the local pro-am league, Toscano-Anderson still had doubts about pursuing his NBA dream.

"All good things come to an end, right?" Toscano-Anderson said. "One day I'm going to have to retire, whether it's in 2015 or 2045, who knows? The one thing I am is a realistic person. I looked in the mirror and I'm realistic in myself. And at the point, my reality wasn't this."

Before completely giving up, he thought he'd give it one more shot, so he packed up his belongings and headed south of the border to play for the Mexican national team in the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

As Toscano-Anderson prepared for the move, countless people told him not to do it. It would be a waste of time, they said. But he went anyway, hoping to be an exception and that something would come from his time there.

Something did.

"It was a lot of fun," Toscano-Anderson said. "It's one of the best times of my life."

 

As Toscano-Anderson started rolling with the Mexican national team, he put the NBA in the back of his mind. He wasn't done with it altogether, but it became less about making it there and became about enjoying what he was doing at the moment.

After his time with the national team, Toscano-Anderson played for Fuerza Regia in Monterrey, Mexico, and led the team to two LNBP titles and won the league's MVP award in 2018. 

During the heights of Toscano-Anderson's LNBP dominance, Fuerza Regia's coach, Paco Olmos, gave Moises Cohen a call. Cohen was, and is, one of Europe's most popular agents, working with the likes of Nikola Jokic and Nemanja Bjelica.

RELATED: When JTA knew he belonged in the NBA, on Warriors

"He called me and said, 'Hey, there's this Mexican kid and he's really good. You should take a look at him,' " Cohen said. "I receive calls like this 150 times per year. ... But when I went to Monterrey to see a game, I was very surprised and impressed."

Cohen believed what Toscano-Anderson did the first time he saw him play might have been a fluke. Maybe he was just having a hot night. But when he went back a few days later and Toscano-Anderson dominated again, Cohen knew he was the real deal.

"I had to talk to this kid to find out if he would like to go to Europe to play because the level of basketball is much better and his career could go better," Cohen said.

Juan Toscano-Anderson Fuerza Regia
Courtesy of Juan Toscano-Anderson's family
Toscano-Anderson loved his time playing for Fuerza Regia in Monterrey. "It was a lot of fun," Toscano-Anderson said. "It's one of the best times of my life."

Making it back home

It would've been easy for Toscano-Anderson to either stay in Mexico or go to Europe. He was a top player in the league and was making decent money. Life was good.

But it also wasn't exactly where he wanted to be for the rest of his life. He wanted to take another crack at the NBA.

"I said, 'Look, the money is not the same. And the money, I believe, is much better for this moment.' But he said no," Cohen said. "He wanted to play in the NBA, he wanted to play for the Golden State Warriors, and I will do anything to do it."

Jabari Brown, one of Toscano-Anderson's best friends, was playing with the G League Santa Cruz Warriors at the time, and put him in touch with members of the front office. The Sea Dubs invited Toscano-Anderson to an open tryout, after which a select few would earn the opportunity to go to the team’s training camp with a chance to earn a roster spot.

"Internally, I felt that if I wasn't with Santa Cruz, I'm leaving. I'm going back to Mexico," Toscano-Anderson said. "I don't want to go live in Maine. I don't want to go live in Fort Wayne in Indiana. I don't want to live in Sioux Falls."

Just like when he went to play in Mexico, Toscano-Anderson had people telling him not to go to the G League. They told him he wouldn't play and was giving up a good situation for something uncertain. But that didn't deter him.

 

"If the basketball portion wasn't working out for me, at least I was close to home," Toscano-Anderson said. "At least I can see my mom, my brothers and sisters, I can see my grandpa. I can still be happy outside of basketball. I am not going to let basketball determine my happiness."

Fast forward to the Santa Cruz Warriors' Fan Fest last weekend. New head coach Seth Cooper mentioned Toscano-Anderson's name as an example of the kind of player who can come out of the G League and make it to the NBA.

The mere mention of Toscano-Anderson's name was met with applause. From Santa Cruz up to San Francisco, Toscano-Anderson now is a household name in the Bay Area.

  • Coming Wednesday, in Part 3 of "El Viaje: The Journey of Juan Toscano-Anderson," Toscano-Anderson shares with Kendra Andrews what he wants his legacy to be on and off the court.

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