War­riors for­ward rises from the ranks

Toscano-Anderson's ca­reer changed in try­out

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Wes Gold­berg

In late Oc­to­ber 2018, Juan Toscano-Anderson sat in an of­fice in Santa Cruz with his head hung, shoul­ders hunched and his eyes fixed to the floor.

Then the gig­gles started. Mo­ments be­fore, he had been told he was go­ing to be re­leased. But Santa Cruz War­riors gen­eral man­ager Ryan Atkin­son, head coach Aaron Miles and di­rec­tor of player de­vel­op­ment Kent La­cob told him that only to see his re­ac­tion when they re­vealed that he would, in fact, make the team. The old­est trick in the book.

“I’m like, ‘What are y’all laugh­ing at?’” Toscano-Anderson said after a re­cent War­riors’ prac­tice. “They’re like, ‘We’re go­ing to keep you.’

“I just wanted to jump up for joy and start scream­ing.”

Only a few months be­fore, Toscano-Anderson, 26, had called Atkin­son, ask­ing to at­tend an open try­out. It was that au­di­tion that put him on the path to leave a six-fig­ure salary and celebrity in Mex­ico’s top pro­fes­sional league and, this sea­son, sign a con­tract with his home­town War­riors.

Fol­low­ing four years at Mar­quette, Toscano-Anderson went un­drafted in 2015 be­fore he played three-plus sea­sons in Mex­ico, where he emerged as one the country’s best play­ers by win­ning two league cham­pi­onships and an MVP award.

He was in the mid­dle of his fourth sea­son when Jabari Brown, his child­hood friend who played for the War­riors’ G League af­fil

iate in 2017 and 2018, con­vinced him to reach out to Atkin­son and gave him his phone num­ber.

At first, Toscano-Anderson was re­luc­tant. The face of Mex­i­can basketball, he was mak­ing a com­fort­able salary and liv­ing in a plush apart­ment while play­ing in his ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents' home country.

Then again, he didn't have much more to prove, and was al­ready mak­ing about as much money as pos­si­ble in Mex­ico.

“I was like, ‘What more can I do?' And I mean that humbly,” Toscano-Anderson said. “I just want more for my­self. I'm so com­pet­i­tive that I'm al­ways try­ing to look for new things to chase.”

Seven years after blos­som­ing into a four-star re­cruit at Cas­tro Val­ley High School, Toscano-Anderson walked into an open gym on the fifth floor of the Oak­land Mar­riott City Cen­ter hop­ing to se­cure a spot on the War­riors' G League ros­ter.

One of about two dozen anony­mous play­ers, Toscano-Anderson be­lieved he was among the more tal­ented and ac­com­plished in at­ten­dance. How­ever, a ver­sa­tile for­ward who prides him­self on play­ing team basketball, he didn't know which of his skills to show off.

“There was a lot of tal­ent there, and I knew I was one of the bet­ter team play­ers,” Toscano-Anderson said. “But I didn't know what they were look­ing for. I didn't re­ally know what di­rec­tion they were go­ing.”

Still, he and five oth­ers im­pressed enough to earn a train­ing camp in­vite. Not a guar­an­teed ros­ter spot, but enough to mo­ti­vate him to keep work­ing to­ward his NBA as­pi­ra­tions.

Be­tween the try­out and the start of train­ing camp, Toscano-Anderson played two games in the 2018-19 sea­son with Fuerza Re­gia de Mon­ter­rey be­fore he ex­er­cised a clause in his con­tract that al­lowed him to at­tend an NBA train­ing camp for two weeks.

On the fi­nal day of his two-week stint in Santa Cruz, Toscano-Anderson still did not know if he was mak­ing the team, and he risked a six-fig­ure salary if he did not re­turn to Mex­ico by that evening.

So Toscano-Anderson asked Atkin­son for clar­ity, and Atkin­son told him he'd get back to him. Fif­teen min­utes later, a room of War­riors' ex­ec­u­tives had fun in telling Toscano-Anderson that he made the team.

This meant giv­ing up more than $100,000 a year and the sta­tus of a league's best player to be­come one of the last guys on a G League bench. Toscano-Anderson gave him­self a year to make it from there to the NBA.

“If it didn't work out, then I was go­ing to leave and go back to Mex­ico,” Toscano-Anderson said. “But things are rolling pretty fast and things are work­ing out for me.”

He worked his way from the end of the bench to the open­ing in­tro­duc­tions, start­ing in four of Santa Cruz's last five games of the sea­son. He con­sid­ers play­ing on that team the most fun he's had in his ca­reer.

After im­press­ing in War­riors train­ing camp in San Fran­cisco last sum­mer, Toscano-Anderson de­cided to give him­self an­other year and re-upped with Santa Cruz. Though he some­times missed his life in Mex­ico, he de­cided he owed it to him­self to see this op­por­tu­nity through.

On Feb. 6, when ToscanoAn­der­son awoke in Santa Cruz to his 8 a.m. alarm, he checked his iPhone and found sev­eral missed calls and an unan­swered text from La­cob: “Wake your be­hind up.”

The up­com­ing trade dead­line would leave the War­riors with only nine play­ers, five fewer than the league's min­i­mum re­quire­ment.

There were no jokes this time around. La­cob, al­most two years after be­ing part of that gag in Santa Cruz, told Toscano-Anderson over the phone that Golden State planned to sign him for the rest of the sea­son.

“I think ev­ery­body here, coaches and man­age­ment, re­ally be­lieves in Juan,” War­riors coach Steve Kerr said. “Loved hav­ing him in train­ing camp. He's one of those guys you love to coach . ... He's earned this op­por­tu­nity, for sure.”

In six games this sea­son, Toscano-Anderson is av­er­ag­ing 6.8 points, 3.8 re­bounds, 2.2 as­sists and 1.3 steals in 20.2 min­utes per game. His abil­ity to fill a box score and play both for­ward spots could be an as­set for the War­riors next sea­son and, more than a year after his last game in Mex­ico, he be­lieves his best basketball is ahead of him.

His con­tract will ex­pire at the end of the sea­son and, be­tween now and then, he hopes to do what he did in that open try­out in 2018 and earn the chance to stick around a lit­tle bit longer.

“I bet on my­self and now I'm in the big­gest league in the world, the best league in the world,” Toscano-Anderson said. “So, I mean, it worked out for me.”

BEN MAR­GOT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The War­riors’ Juan ToscanoAn­der­son lays up a shot against the Pel­i­cans on Sun­day.

BEN MAR­GOT — AP

The War­riors’ Juan Toscano-Anderson shoots against the Rock­ets in the sec­ond half on Feb. 20 in San Fran­cisco.

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