Over the NBA All-Star break, Juan Toscano-Anderson held a basketball clinic at an elementary school in Monterrey, Mexico. The kids knew his story -- he played in Monterrey. Then he earned a chance in the G League. Now, he’s one of the only Mexican-American athletes to ever reach the NBA.
The kids mobbed Toscano-Anderson, peppering him with questions. “Do you know Steph Curry?” they exclaimed. Juan said yes, he plays alongside the star he grew up watching in his hometown of Oakland.
#ThisIsWhyWePlay 💙@juanonjuan10 spent his All Star break hosting a basketball clinic at a local elementary school in Monterrey, Mexico, where he played for two seasons earlier in his career. pic.twitter.com/umOQS2anRP— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 18, 2020
As he looked at their faces, Juan felt a determination to be someone they could look up to.
“They have a piece of them in the NBA now, someone they can root for,” Toscano-Anderson told NBC Sports Bay Area during the Warriors' recent road trip. “I’m very appreciative of the people, the league and everyone who has helped me. They helped me revive my career in a sense. I didn’t know what I was going to do after college. I went down there and made a new name for myself.”
Juan didn’t anticipate playing basketball in Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional -- one season with Soles de Mexicali, two seasons with Fuerza Regia de Monterrey -- would be a formative part of his career. He didn’t expect basketball to come into his life at all. He said his household was “soccer, soccer, soccer.”
Juan’s third-grade teacher, Wilhelmina Attles -- wife of Warriors legend Al Attles -- set him up at a basketball camp. He loved it. Juan went home and declared to his family he was giving up soccer. He honed his skills at Oakland rec centers and the Boys & Girls Club.
Juan played high school basketball at Castro Valley and then collegiately for four seasons at Marquette. He remembers injuries and frustration.
“No offers, no agents, no workouts," he said. "Can you imagine all your life you’ve been working for this point and then it ends?”
Friends suggested that he play in Europe, but Juan didn’t feel like he could get a deal worth the move.
“I didn’t have anything close to a good college career,” he said. “Mexico ... the league there? People didn’t even know about it. It doesn’t get any respect around the world.”
Juan took a chance. His seasons in Liga Nacional fulfilled him deeply. He discovered a fan base open to basketball, ready to take cues from the NBA’s culture of exciting play, personalities, shoes and music. On a scale of 1 to 10, Juan believes Mexico’s interest in the game is a 4 but growing.
“I want to be a cornerstone for what it will become,” he said.
Juan’s time in Mexico taught him that if he wants to play a role in growing the sport, he needs to immerse himself in the language.
“I grew up in a Latino household,” he explained. “All Mexicans in my house. We ate Mexican food, it was all Mexican culture, holidays. My mom speaks English 90 percent of the time. Sometimes she’ll yell at us in Spanish. But we grew up in my grandpa’s house. My grandpa speaks all Spanish. All my life I’ve understood Spanish, but I didn’t start speaking it until I moved to Mexico.”
Juan said he constantly practiced the language so he could connect with people and be in control of his own story. “No middlemen,” he said, and estimates he’s about 85 to 90 percent fluent.
“People appreciate the effort, and they’re accepting me as their own," Juan says. "It’s gratifying to see people embrace me.”
Any conversation with Juan contains moments when he states, “I shouldn’t be here.” He gets goosebumps when thinking about what he wants to do with his NBA opportunity. His first priority is to continue to maintain his place with the Warriors. Then, as he daydreams about the future, Juan said his mind goes to Mexico.
“When I’m done here, I’ll always have a home there,” Juan said.
He considers the options with a sense of responsibility.
“As a player, as a coach ... one day I want to buy a franchise down there. I want to give them 10 times what they’ve given me."