Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

I saw a couple of pictures of Golden State Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson the other day while mindlessly scrolling through the Facebook app on my phone, checking updates on the ongoing National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, as well as updates from my favorite boxing websites.

The photos of Toscano-Anderson were actually part of a promotional post from the Facebook account of Husky’s Center, a sports club in Querétaro, a state located in northern central Mexico, in a region known as Bajío. (I’ve been to Querétaro only once, several years ago, for the wedding of a friend, and I loved it there — significantly more tranquilo than the Ciudad de México, which I call home, but also with a lot of character. I’ve heard more than once that it’s one of the safest destinations here in Mexico.) This coming Aug. 4 to 7, basketball fans can join a meet-and-greet event at Husky’s Center in Querétaro where, for a fee, they get the chance to chat with the NBA forward, take a photo with him and even score an autographed Toscano-Anderson jersey. Kids can also learn basketball fundamentals from him (passing, rebounding and defense) and take part in shooting drills. (For those interested, the complete details of the event can be found here.)

For those who are not NBA or Golden State Warriors fans and aren’t familiar with Toscano-Anderson, it’s not really a surprise that he has an event scheduled in Mexico: After four years of college hoops playing for the Marquette Eagles of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I, he went undrafted in the NBA and signed with the Soles de Mexicali of the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional (LNBP), the top professional basketball league in Mexico. Holding a Mexican passport, he has also represented the country in the 2016 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Turin, Italy.

Toscano-Anderson was born in Oakland, California, to an African-American father and a Mexican-American mother; his maternal grandmother moved to the United States from Michoacán, in western Mexico, in the 1970s. He was raised in Oakland, California, in a Spanish-speaking household that also celebrated Mexican holidays.

The Mexican-American had a decent four-year stint playing at Marquette, and in his senior year in particular, he had a breakout season: In a Nov. 12, 2014, game against the University of Tennessee Martin Skyhawks, he scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had a game-high four steals. Versus the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks in a Nov. 22 game of the same year, he scored a career-high 23 markers while shooting 73 percent from the field. In that game, he also led the team in rebounds with eight, and also blocked two shots while getting three steals and adding four assists. During the 2015 ESPN Events Invitational (which back then was still known as the Orlando Classic), he scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds and had two steals while leading his team to victory against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Unfortunately, even this strong showing in his senior year wasn’t enough to persuade any of the 30 teams to give Toscano-Anderson a shot, though he subsequently declared for the 2015 NBA Draft shortly after his collegiate career. If he wanted to play in the NBA, he had to take the backdoor route, which was harder and without guarantees. But after putting in the hard work, he would eventually prove his doubters wrong.

After his stint with Soles de Mexicali, Toscano-Anderson then took his act to Venezuela’s professional basketball league, the Liga Profesional de Baloncesto in 2016, where he played for the Bucaneros de La Guaira, a team based in Maiquetía, Vargas, Venezuela. After a season there, he found himself back on Mexican soil, where he played three seasons — from 2016 to 2019 — for Fuerza Regia de Monterrey, the home team of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.

The biggest break for the Mexican American, however, was when he joined the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G League affiliate of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors for the 2019-2020 NBA G League season. Here he was, finally, closer to his dream of joining — and playing for — an NBA team, also the winner of the 2015, 2017 and 2018 titles and a perennial contender at that, the Golden State Warriors.

Toscano-Anderson signed a three-year contract with the Warriors on Feb. 6, 2020, and promptly showed the team what he is capable of — two weeks later, after signing his contract — in a game against the New Orleans Pelicans, where he recorded an NBA career high of 16 points.

On Feb. 19, 2022, Toscano-Anderson was a participant in the AT&T Slam Dunk Contest of  the 2022 NBA All Star Weekend. The first player of Mexican descent to join the contest, he went toe-to-toe in the finals against eventual Slam Dunk Contest champion Obi Toppin of the New York Knicks. The Orlando Magic’s Cole Anthony and rookie sensation Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets also joined the event, but were both knocked off in the first round.

Toscano-Anderson, even if he is not a superstar in the mold of fellow Warriors teammates Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Jordan Poole, like any other dependable role player on a contending team, he is the ultimate glue guy. The six-foot-seven forward is a hard worker and is extremely athletic, and is willing to do the dirty work on the court: going for loose balls, and he is always on top of other hustle plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Sure, I enjoy watching superstars like Curry, Thompson and Poole ply their trade in the NBA. Who doesn’t? But if I have the chance to meet Juan Toscano-Anderson, someone who is accustomed to doing things nobody notices to help win games, then I’d grab that opportunity. I’d love to talk basketball with him and pick his brain if I could.

And hey, that means I also get to go back to Querétaro if I do decide to attend the meet-and-greet event this coming August. That’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

*****

Closing Marks: Basketball without Borders Camp Held Today at San Luis Potosí, Mexico 

The NBA and the FIBA will hold its 11th Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Americas Camp Monday, May 16, through Thursday, May 19, at the La Loma Centro Deportivo in San Luis Potosí, the official home of NBA Academy Latin America.

The campers — 64 boys and girls from 17 countries and territories — who have traveled to Mexico will be coached by NBA players Leandro Nicolás Bolmaro from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who hails from Argentina, and Chris Duarte from the Indiana Pacers, who was born in the Dominican Republic. NBA, NBA G League and FIBA assistant coaches Lindsey Harding of the Sacramento Kings, Steve Hetzel of the Portland Trail Blazers, Sidney Lowe of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ron Nored of the Pacers, Don Showalter of USA Basketball and Mitch Thompson of the G League Mexico City Capitanes will also serve as BWB Americas coaches.

Earlier this year, NBA Latin America also announced a commitment to renovate basketball courts across Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

These are exciting times for basketball fans in the country. Who says Mexico is only about fútbol and boxing?

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