Juan Toscano-Anderson was on his phone when he came across a video of a Golden State Warriors player working out before a game. To his surprise, it was a video of him, and yet another reminder of his incredible journey to the NBA.
“I looked at my phone, went on the Warriors’ page and was like, ‘Wow, I am really on the Warriors,’ ” Toscano-Anderson told on Tuesday night after the Warriors beat the San Antonio Spurs. “They’re actually posting video of my pregame workout. It’s dope, man.”
Six years ago, Toscano-Anderson didn’t even enter his name in the NBA draft. Today, he’s starting for his hometown Warriors.
“I don’t take none of this for granted,” Toscano-Anderson, 27, said. “It’s funny how these things happen. It’s just meant to be sometimes. … I am always reminded that it took a lot for me to get here. There were numerous times where I truly wanted to throw in the towel.
“It’s hard not to get emotional. Sometimes I feel like, ‘I’m here. … Be happy and move on.’ But every day is truly a blessing. I used to work out at a gym in Mexico that didn’t have a regulation hoop. Now I get the best of everything. Food. Lodging. Facilities. Resources. C’mon, man, you can’t beat that.”
Toscano-Anderson appreciates his unique journey. He was born in Oakland, California, on April 10, 1993, and was named after his uncle Juan Toscano, who was killed during his mother’s pregnancy. His mother is Mexican and his father is African American. He said he learned a lot about Mexican culture (and cooking) while spending time with his grandfather, who immigrated from Michoacán, Mexico, 40 years ago, at his home on 95th Street in East Oakland. He also learned about African American culture from his stepfather, who is a Black man with Southern roots.
“Growing up, I got to indulge in those cultures both comfortably,” Toscano-Anderson said. “So my mom, she’s full Mexican and my father wasn’t in my life, but my stepdad was and his family’s from Louisiana. And we also had a babysitter who was Black and from Arkansas. So I really grew up around Southern Black people, people from the South, people from Arkansas.
“And that’s what was unique for me. I just got to experience multiple types of lifestyles because they are different. Traditions are different. Mannerisms are different. Ideologies are different. Family dynamics are different. They’re just very different and I thought that was pretty cool is that I just got to have different types of perspective on life.”
Toscano-Anderson was introduced to basketball in the third grade at Oakland’s Stonehurst Elementary School by his then-teacher Wilhelmina Attles, who is a former Upsala College basketball star and also the wife of Warriors legend and Hall of Famer Al Attles. After seeing Toscano-Anderson fall in love with the game, she was able to get him into the Warriors’ youth basketball camp for free. (Toscano-Anderson is the first Warriors player to have participated in the franchise’s youth basketball program.) Attles also helped Toscano-Anderson get on the Oakland Rebels’ AAU basketball team.
“He was very athletic and talented at that time,” Attles said. “They used to go out and play all the time at recess. You don’t realize that you have that type of impact on the kids. Juan also had things that happened in his life that made me so close to him outside of the classroom. He was one of my children.”
Toscano-Anderson went on to star at Castro Valley High School (California) where he led the Trojans to a 30-2 record and a CIF NorCal championship as a senior during the 2010-11 season. The 6-foot-6 guard-forward turned down Texas, Baylor, UCLA, California-Berkeley and Oregon for Marquette University. As a senior, he averaged 8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds, but didn’t make as much of a contribution as he would have liked.
After he received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Marquette, he didn’t have interest from NBA teams and didn’t bother entering his name into the 2015 NBA draft. He figured his next competitive basketball game would take place at the San Francisco Bay Area pro-am.
“I didn’t even watch the draft. Nothing. There was no interest,” he said. “Honestly, basketball was over for me.”
Toscano-Anderson contemplated going back home to try to land a well-paying job in Silicon Valley, but he ended up joining the Mexican national basketball team in 2016 at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Turin, Italy, using Toscano on the back of his jersey since it was on his Mexican passport. He also played professionally in Mexico and Venezuela from 2016 to 2018.
Before the 2018-19 NBA season, Toscano-Anderson was among about 30 players who landed an open tryout with the Warriors’ G League Santa Cruz Warriors. A select few would earn the opportunity to go to the G League team’s training camp with a chance to earn a roster spot. With nothing to lose, Toscano-Anderson was determined to be noticed.
“There was a lot of guys that I knew from college, so when I went there, I’m just like, ‘Well, shoot. We just hooping. Do you.’ And one thing I know that I can always count on that’s always going to show you some benefit is how hard you play,” Toscano-Anderson said.
Then-Santa Cruz head coach Aaron Miles, now an assistant coach with the Warriors, remembers how Toscano-Anderson stood out.
“I’m running it. I’m not able to really watch what was going on,” Miles said. “My assistant coaches were watching most of it for me. Then I heard a player scream, ‘Hey, hey, I got ball. I got ball.’ Then I heard him say, ‘You got help on your left.’ Just talking. I was like, ‘OK, No. 47,’ or whatever he was.
“Afterwards, when we started talking about who we liked, I was like, ‘Who is No. 47?’ They said his name was Juan and he was already on the board. I said, ‘I like him.’ He came to our training camp, worked his ass off, played well and we found a way to keep him. … You can’t help but want him to do well and want him on your team.”
Toscano-Anderson was offered a spot with Santa Cruz paying a mere $2,000 per month. He was also skeptical of getting a fair shot in the G League due to potential favoritism and politics, and worried about the high buyout in his proposed contract. He could make more money by returning to play in Mexico.
His girlfriend, however, convinced him to bet on himself and pursue his NBA dream.
“At this point, I’m trying to get paid too,” he said. “I’m already four years in [professionally]. Regressing financially is not really what I’m trying to do. When I saw the buyout price, I was like, ‘I’m going to stay in Mexico and make some money.’ She said, ‘Nah. Go. We’ll figure out money later. Go, go, go.’
“So, I ain’t jumping into this all by myself. She’s going to do it with me. And that just gave me more faith in just following my dream.”
Toscano-Anderson averaged a well-rounded 12.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals through 31 games in the G League. With each passing game, his hopes were growing that his NBA dream could come true with the Warriors or another team. Santa Cruz Warriors general manager Ryan Atkinson said Toscano-Anderson impressed the team by playing hard and knowing his role.
“He bet on himself by turning down lucrative offers overseas to play in the G League to achieve his ultimate goal of playing in the NBA for his hometown team,” Atkinson said. “We can all learn from Juan. If you step out on faith and believe in yourself, you can accomplish whatever you want in life.”
On Feb. 7, 2020, the Warriors called him up from the G League and signed him to a three-year minimum deal. With the No. 10 jersey gone to then-Warriors guard Jacob Evans, Toscano-Anderson chose the highest number in Warriors history at No. 95. The number was in honor of his grandfather’s home on 95th Street in Oakland.
Toscano-Anderson averaged 5.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 13 games, including six starts, before the Warriors’ season ended prematurely due to the pandemic and not making the NBA bubble.
“For me to be playing in an NBA game, but even more so to be playing for the Warriors, my family was superfans and I just really appreciated that. It humbles me to always just live in the moment,” Toscano-Anderson said.
Meanwhile, Toscano-Anderson has quickly used his platform to impact Mexican and Black communities in the Bay Area. He became the first recipient of the 2019-20 NBA G League Community Assist Award on Tuesday “for his continued commitment to positively impacting the lives of children and families throughout the 2019-20 season.”
Toscano-Anderson also was inspired to speak out about social justice, police brutality and oppression after George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. He led two Walk in Unity events in Oakland, including one on June 3 that teammates Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevon Looney and Damion Lee attended.
While Toscano-Anderson primarily received rave reviews for hosting the protest, he said, there were some critics locally in the Black community.
“There were people saying that I shouldn’t have done that because I’m not full Black and stuff like that,” Toscano-Anderson said. “That type of stuff is just ridiculous because all I was trying to do is just be peaceful, bring people together in the hard time. It’s the middle of a pandemic. Another Black man has been shot. People are hurting. We need positivity right now. …
“I’ve always wanted to speak out publicly about me being half Black and half Mexican, but then I caught myself saying I can’t argue with the media and with people and so forth,” he added. “And so I say that to say because a lot of people try to dismiss my Blackness because the NBA’s pushing my Mexican heritage so much. That’s all they see and they forget that I’m half Black. But on the other side, there’s a lot of Mexicans in Mexico that say I’m not Mexican.”
It’s nothing new for Toscano-Anderson, who grew up with African Americans often questioning his Blackness due to his light skin, and Mexican Americans calling him the “N-word” in Spanish. He and his brother were also called “mutt.”
Toscano-Anderson hopes that what he has been able to overcome will offer inspiration to other biracial kids.
“I get it on both sides, so honestly, if I could tell the kids just be yourself,” Toscano-Anderson said. “That’s the best thing you can do is be you. And I know it sounds so cliché but people are going to love you, people going to hate you and you got to be you. It’s a crazy world out there. You here for a good time, not a long time. Be you.”
The expectation for Toscano-Anderson this season was that he was going to play a few games with the Warriors before joining G League Santa Cruz in the G League bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. He was waived on Dec. 19 before signing a two-way contract two days later. The Warriors, however, have deemed Toscano-Anderson too valuable to send to the G League bubble and kept him on the roster. He is averaging 6.1 points and 5.0 rebounds, and shooting 50% from 3-point range, while starting six of 12 games.
Toscano-Anderson has a solid case to get his two-way contract converted to a full NBA contract. The Warriors would have to cut a player on their roster to make that move.
“I’m just a huge fan of Juan’s,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “His story is amazing with how far he’s come and how he got here. You don’t make that kind of journey without being really strong-willed with a lot of belief in yourself, without conviction not only in your sport but in your life, too. Juan has proven to have plenty of that.”
And he’s not satisfied with how far he’s come.
“I’m not comfortable at all,” Toscano-Anderson said. “I still feel like my back is against the wall. I haven’t done anything in this league. Nothing. And maybe other people say you made the NBA or you scored 14 points in a game. You look like you belong. OK, maybe I am showing I belong. I might belong. I want to do something to solidify myself. I want to have longevity in this league.
“I’ve played overseas and it’s cool. It’s fun, but nothing is better than playing in the NBA. Nothing. So this is where I want to play. This is where I want to stay and I wake up every day feeling like I got to prove myself. Every day. I haven’t done anything.”