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Juan Toscano-Anderson Brought Mexico Back to the NBA

The last of Latin-American players to make a name for himself in the NBA ranks hails from Mexican heritage and had to fight quite a lot to reach the upper echelon. Now part of the Golden State Warriors, he’s here to stay.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The man in the picture leading this column is a basketball player. The man in the picture leading this column is, also, one of just 513 players to play at least a second of NBA hoops this season. The man in the picture is of Latin-American heritage, too. And that, not many other NBA players can say.

Going by the letter, Juan Toscano-Anderson is an American, Cali born and raised. Just a tad over a year after I was born the world welcomed Toscano-Anderson by the way of Oakland, his born place. How Juan became a basketball star instead of a soccer player is hard to understand, at least if we follow preconceptions and prejudgments of Mexican-heritage athletes. At the end of the day, though, the most Mexican Juan has in him are his grandfather’s roots.

Juan’s grandfather hailed from Michoacán but moved to Oakland in 1965, bought a house right there in the place, and only years later that very home would serve Toscano-Anderson as the point in the map he always came back to.

Fast-forward a bunch of years and find Juan entering Castro Valley HS in San Fran. He’d spend some time there honing his skills and becoming part of a 2011 class of high school hoopers that included the likes of Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers, Bradley Beal or, closer to his home, the now renowned Norman Powell or then heavily-recruited Josiah Turner. But don’t get it wrong. Juan appeared on the class ranks at the 70th spot, making the top-100 in the nation and finding himself primed for a successful basketball career since day one.

Juan ranked 70th but was the 15th-best shooting forward (always per 247Sports Composite rankings) and the 6th-best prospect from Cali. No wonder the offers were all over the table to have him playing D-I ball in the 2011-12 campaign. No luck for a bunch of schools, mostly those not named Marquette, that is.

Toscano didn’t start any of his freshman season games for the Golden Eagles, though he played in 24 of them on a low-usage basis logging just 4.5 minutes per game and averaging under a point and rebound nightly. No shame in it considering he shared the court with future-NBA players such as Jae Crowder and Vander Blue.

In his three next seasons leading up to graduation, Juan became a staple a Marquette, though, playing 97 games and starting 77 of them. He averaged 18.1 minutes while putting up 5-4-1-1 lines on a nightly basis. Not the gaudiest, not the strongest, but definitely helpful and part of the effort the college put on to make the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and rank 17th by AP the following year. All in all, Juan was about to leave Marquette with an 83-51 winning record under his belt, reaching the Regional Final in 2013.

For the good or the bad, after declaring for the 2015 NBA draft the Oakland native went undrafted—which was expected, though, but you always have to shoot your shot—but found a place to keep up his playing days. Things turned pro as he signed in Mexico with Soles de Mexicali, of the LNBP. A one-season spell there, followed by two at Monterrey with Fuerza Regia brought Juan a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream: the NBA was calling. And not just the NBA, but his hometown Santa Cruz Warriors.

It’s a 70-mile drive, after all. No more than an hour sitting in your average car, and you’d have moved from Oakland to Santa Cruz. That was the trip Juan did in order to try out for the Santa Cruz Warriors, which if you’re into baseball we can consider the actual Golden State Warriors minor-league team. By Nov. 2018, Juan was already part of the SC Warriors roster. Up to $2K per week read the checks until destiny came with an even better plot twist this past February.

In the meantime, the Warriors—the Golden State Warriors, NBA team, that is—had moved places from Oakland to San Francisco. Not a long trip, that’s for sure, but still one. When the phone rang on Feb. 6, the Warriors wanted him on their A-Level team.

After the days of high school balling in Castro Valley. After the four years spent honing his skills at a much more professional environment in Marquette. After being forced to move from the States to his long-storied roots in Mexico to become a professional. After a spell in the minor-league system of the NBA. After being part of Mexico’s national basketball team in 2016. An NBA player, after all.

Now a daily presence in Golden State’s lineups, Juan has already played 10 games, started three, and is logging his career-highest—and by career I mean life—numbers. Toscano-Anderson is averaging 22.2 minutes per game, is scoring 6.2 points, grabbing 4.1 boards, dishing 2.1 assists out, stealing 1.2 rocks, and even blocking 0.5 shots per game while only committing 1.6 turnovers per game under the brightest of lights you can imagine and the pressure they bring with them. No slouch.

The current Warriors are far from what they were just a bunch of months ago. There is no Kevin Durant. There is no Klay Thompson, and there hasn’t been much Steph Curry either. It was D’Angelo Russell, but no more, flipped a few weeks ago for Andrew Wiggins. Golden State is going through a parenthesis in its franchise history book, with the 2019-20 season serving as a year-long tryout for the likes of Juan and many others. Prove your value, and you’ll stay. Drop the ball, and you’ll be gone.

So far, things couldn’t have been much better for Juan. The NBA has integrated a lot of players from Europe and other countries exponentially during the past few years, but Juan Toscano-Anderson (even while an American by birth) is one of just a handful of players with Latin-American roots attached to his name, let alone Mexico-related.

There have been just four other Mexicans in the NBA since 1973 (per RealGM), without counting Juan: Eduardo Najera, Horacio Llamas, Jorge Gutierrez, and Gustavo Ayon. All of them played at least 28 games (Llamas) and up to 619 (Najera). Juan Toscano-Anderson has a long road ahead to reach even the lowest of those marks.

Be sure he won’t give up.