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El Viaje: JTA feels constant pressure to succeed, build legacy

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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, with the full TV show debuting tonight at 6:30 before the Warriors-Nuggets preseason game broadcast. In Part 3, Kendra Andrews recounts what JTA wants his legacy to be on and off the court.

Juan Toscano-Anderson recalls the exact moment he had a feeling he'd play alongside Steph Curry.

It was in February 2020, as Toscano-Anderson prepared to travel from Santa Cruz to Sioux Falls, S.D., for his next G League game, when he noticed he had several missed calls from Kent Lacob, the Warriors' director of team development.

"I don't want to say that I knew was next in line, because I didn't know that, but I had a good feeling," Toscano-Anderson said. "I felt like I was playing well in the G League, I fit the team's needs with Andre Iguodala being gone, I knew the system, I know how to play with Steph [Curry] ... I just felt like I fit the mold of what they needed."

EL VIAJE, PART 1: JTA details his journey in proudly embracing Mexican roots
EL VIAJE, PART 2: How JTA almost abandoned 'far-fetched' NBA dream

His gut was right. Lacob told Toscano-Anderson to skip the Sea Dubs' flight to South Dakota and instead join Golden State in San Francisco.

At that moment, Toscano-Anderson felt an overwhelming amount of emotion. Though he was on a two-way contract, being called up to the NBA was a sign that his unconventional journey had paid off. 

"When you get that message, it's a life-changing call," Toscano-Anderson said. "So honestly, I just sat there on my bed. I didn't know whether to cry, to be happy, I was nervous because I was like, I'm about to go play in the NBA. I got to be prepared. I got to hit the ground rolling. It was a whirlwind of emotions."

 
Juan Toscano-Anderson Steph Curry
USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES
Juan Toscano-Anderson (left) celebrates a Warriors victory by splashing water on Steph Curry.

Outplaying his two-way contract

Toscano-Anderson's chance to prove himself at the NBA level was cut short in 2020 when the league shut down because of the coronavirus.

Ahead of the 2020-21 season, he signed another two-way contract with Golden State, but he quickly proved to be invaluable.

"He’s not a two-way guy to me," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said during the season.

Added Curry: "You hope that [two-way] tag doesn’t last too much longer. But while it does, he’s obviously playing way above that label."

Though tagged a defense-first player, Toscano-Anderson shot 57.9 percent on his shots from the field, including 40.2 percent from 3-point range. Then, of course, his defense was there, and he showed a hustle that can't be duplicated.

Despite the praise Toscano-Anderson received from his coaches, his teammates, the front office and the fanbase, he never let it make him comfortable. He still was on a two-way contract. He still had more to prove.

‘About time’

Even as conversations of his contract being converted to a standard one started, Toscano-Anderson didn't take his foot off the gas. He needed it to happen first.

"I happened to call him, and I was like, 'Hey sir, what's up?' He said, 'Oh ... I'm getting ready to go sign my contract,'" Toscano-Anderson's mother, Patricia, recalled. "I said, 'What now?' He said, 'My contract.' I said, 'About time.' "

Just like when Toscano-Anderson received the call from Lacob about getting his shot in the NBA, signing an actual contract carried an immense amount of gravity.

"As that sunk in, I was like, 'Oh my God. He has wanted this his whole life,' " Patricia said. "He carried [a] basketball everywhere we went. ... He used to be outside at the break of dawn, and I could hear that basketball bouncing. He'd be shooting and running around with it."

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

That work ethic followed Toscano-Anderson throughout his entire life and NBA journey. And just because he now had a standard contract didn't mean it would stop.

"I felt more pressure -- self-inflicted pressure," Toscano-Anderson said. "Because I don't want Steve or Bob [Myers] or Joe [Lacob] to go back into a meeting and say, 'Oh, we gave this guy some money and he didn't really pan out to what we thought he was going to be.' Not only that, but I'm trying to get to a second contract.

"I just felt more pressure to perform and get better. And like I said, I'm a competitor, so that's just self-inflicted. And maybe I shouldn't use the word pressure, but more responsibility. And that's how I felt. I was happy about it, and you have to celebrate the small victories. And it's not a small victory. But in perspective to where I want to go, it's a smaller victory. ...

"I'm still happy about it and appreciate it every single day. I just want more."

Juan Toscano-Anderson graduating Castro Valley High School
Courtesy of Juan Toscano-Anderson's family
Juan Toscano-Anderson poses for a photo with his family after graduating from Castro Valley High School

Building a legacy

Toscano-Anderson knows what the Warriors' goal is this season, especially for veteran players such as Curry, Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. It's to return to championship contention. 

 

"I'll do anything to win," Toscano-Anderson said.

Need proof? Look at the 35 stitches in his head he needed after diving headfirst last season to save a loose ball in Boston.

"Without knowing that final part of the play, I would still make that play 10 out of 10 times," he said.

Toscano-Anderson wants to extend the Warriors' legacy and start a new dynastic chapter for the franchise. When he looks around the practice facility and sees his portrait plastered on the wall alongside Curry, Thompson and Kevin Durant, Toscano-Anderson still is shell-shocked that this is his life.

"I have been in that practice facility many times, and never did I imagine my face being on that wall," Toscano-Anderson said. "That is going to be there forever. Because I'm a part of history."

It's not often that a professional athlete can play for his or her hometown team. It's even rarer that they can play for two home teams. But that's what Toscano-Anderson has accomplished by playing for both the Warriors and the Mexican National Team.

"It's like living like a rock star," Toscano-Anderson said. "Playing for a club is one thing. Like, playing for the Warriors is amazing, playing at home is amazing. But playing for a country is just a whole other level."

RELATED: JTA reveals lofty goals for Warriors' season

The rock-star life Toscano-Anderson now lives is the ultimate way of telling himself he made the right choices during his basketball journey. They weren't always the shiniest or sexiest moments, but they've paid off.

"Life doesn't get much better than this," he said. "I get to play for my hometown team. I get to play for a country. I get to play with the best shooter, in my opinion, the best point guard to ever play, Hall of Famers, you know, play for Steve. These are just all moving parts to this concoction that just make it so special for me. And so it's amazing."

While he doesn't have a ring with the Warriors yet, Toscano-Anderson's legacy within the franchise already has taken shape. As he said, he's part of history as the first former Warriors camper to be a professional player. The team gifted Toscano-Anderson a replica of his camp jersey that he now wears in practice. And he never misses an opportunity to let his teammates know that he's the first and only to have such an item. 

"It means the world to me," Toscano-Anderson said. "I think it just hits different because I've been to camp, I'm from Oakland, I'm in the community. There are kids that go to Warriors camp and are going to go to Warriors camp for a long time coming, and my name is going to be in the conversation about basketball in Oakland and the Bay Area.

"For kids to talk about me, it's inexplicable."

 
Juan Toscano-Andersom
Courtesy of Juan Toscano-Anderson's family
Juan Toscano-Anderson went back to Mexico this past summer to run camps across the country in Saltillo and Cancun. For many of the kids who attended his camps, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Teaching the next generation

Toscano-Anderson doesn't just have Oakland kids talking about him, though. He has kids south of the border chatting about him, too.

This summer, Toscano-Anderson went back to Mexico to run camps across the country in Saltillo and Cancun. For many of the kids who attended his camps, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Unlike in the Bay Area, and across all NBA markets in the United States, there aren't many elite basketball camps to attend in Mexico and even fewer run by professional athletes or teams.

"I never imagined being the beacon of light for people or this example of motivation and perseverance," Toscano-Anderson said. "Being able to offer some help or a small gesture that could potentially change someone's life, that moves mountains. Because there were so many people who helped me."

One camper -- 16-year-old Alan Mauricio Torres Castellanos -- drove 36 hours with his father, Carlos Mauricio Torres Perez, from Tabasco, Mexico, to Saltillo to be at Toscano-Anderson's camp.

RELATED: JTA's incredible Cancun surprise for camper

Perez said the decision to do that was easy. His son loves basketball, and he wanted to give him more opportunities than he had as a child.

"It gives me goosebumps," Toscano-Anderson said. "Thirty-five hours is a long time. And to me, like, you did that for me?

"I don't look at myself as this grand person. I don't. To me, it was humbling. It makes me want to take more responsibility and be a good example for these kids. Lead the way, help the sport grow, help them get more opportunities."

When Toscano-Anderson spoke to Castellanos, he could tell the young camper was jittery. It reminded him of how he felt and acted when he met LeBron James as a kid. 

"That's LeBron James. That's, in my opinion, one of the best three players to ever pick up a basketball," Toscano-Anderson said. "To see a kid have the same reaction when I come close to him or speak to him is humbling."

Toscano-Anderson told Castellanos and Perez that he would pay for their plane tickets and registration for his next camp session in Cancun, happening in just three days -- another gesture to help give those in Toscano-Anderson's community more opportunity.

It's his way of "helping indirectly." Toscano-Anderson has done similar work in the Bay Area, running backpack drives and leading marches for social justice through downtown Oakland.

"When it's all said and done, when you take off the label, when you take off the jewelry, when you take away the bank accounts, when you take away the title of being an NBA player, who are you really?" Toscano-Anderson said. "I'm in the trenches. I'm really in East Oakland. Do people really like me for who I am? Do they love me for who I am? I'm really in Mexico, in the small towns, in the big towns, where people consider [it] dangerous. Do the people really love me?

"That's what's most important to me. Because at the end of the day, I'm not going to be an NBA player forever. ... The ball is going to stop bouncing for me one day. And so what is my purpose is going to be? Who am I going to be? What am I going to mean to my community?"

 

From Oakland neighborhood hero to instant Warriors fan favorite, Toscano-Anderson has a lot of time left to finish building his legacy. So far, he's off to a great start.

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