By Ellie Lieberman
In our next set of blog posts, Ellie Lieberman will recap the highlights from each of our guests on our first season of Mental Buckets. Here’s what you missed in Episode 2: Quieting The Doubters feat. Juan Toscano-Anderson, and why you should listen.
For those who… have ever considered quitting basketball, didn’t immediately click with a team, doubted themselves, or anyone who wants to hear a feel-good story about never giving up.
Juan Toscano-Anderson had 101 reasons to quit basketball. He didn’t play high school varsity basketball after being deemed just “ok,” couldn’t solidify a spot with the Oakland Rebels, struggled to find a niche at Marquette, got injured and suspended, played in 18 countries before getting a shot at the NBA. If you’re getting the idea that him making it to the NBA was absolutely a tale of gritting and grinding, and being your own number one fan, you are not wrong at all. Toscano-Anderson knows what it’s like to be doubted repeatedly and rattled to the point he considered quitting the game.
But that’s not the half of his story. Juan Toscano-Anderson is defined by his work ethic and resilience. Once he got a shot playing for the Oakland Rebels after trying out several times, he finally saw a vision for himself and was able to latch onto it. He would take the BART from Castro Valley to Oakland just to play pick-up games with a few friends he met from the AAU program, and this became a turning point in his basketball career.
He touched on this moment in his Mental Buckets conversation with Packie and Mike; “I’m a firm believer that you gotta surround yourself with the right people because once you surround yourself with the right people, people in a different environment, people that have guidance, people that had a vision, it was just contagious for myself.”
Once finally getting into his groove during high school, he started receiving recognition from elite universities throughout the country. After meeting with Buzz Williams and getting to know assistant Tony Bemford his mom was sold on Marquette, and JTA on a chance to win a Big East title just as the conference was loaded with talent.
That doesn’t mean his collegiate career came easily. JTA got suspended for three games during his freshman campaign because he accepted a ticket to a Brewers vs Cardinals playoff game. During the suspension, he couldn’t practice or play with the team, and he fractured his foot before being reinstated. By the end of sophomore year, JTA had missed a sizable chunk of games, and hadn’t made the impact he wanted. He was at a crossroads; he was averaging only 14 minutes of playing time per game. Finally, as he began to establish himself as an upperclassman, eager to run in the system that other NBA elite such as Jimmy Butler had thrived in, Buzz Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech. Again, JTA could’ve taken the easy way out, but he didn’t. Even senior year didn’t go as JTA had planned, but he remained dedicated to his craft, and averaged 7.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in just over 20 minutes of play per game. JTA had certainly maximized his opportunity, but others still doubted whether he was capable of becoming an everyday NBA player.
Four years later, and 18 countries logged while playing overseas, JTA played in 13 games for the Golden State Warriors last season, and excelled the year prior for the Santa Cruz Warriors. He is the first one to admit his struggles in this podcast episode, but he also radiates resilience and self-awareness.
“In 2020 I am where I wanted to be the whole time,” JTA said on Mental Buckets. Beyond his developed skill set, JTA stresses the importance of being a competitor, regardless of the circumstances.
“You can’t teach someone to be a dog,” JTA said. “You can’t teach that intensity.”
JTA’s fire that lights his game, that traces back to him being cut from varsity in high school, is only growing stronger. When he played in a pick-up game at UPB, he jumped at the chance to guard Steph Curry. JTA prides himself on versatility, on having a jack-of-all-trades mentality, and working till the lights in the gym go out.
“I don’t want to get respect in that inorganic way,” he said.
Behind the creation of UPBYCF lies years of activism for both Turners and a sustained interest in bettering communities in The Bay Area. They know the statistics that six times as many low-income students drop youth sports when compared to those from high-income families because of access (Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative). They also know firsthand the power sports has to build character because “a survey of 400 female corporate executives found 94% played a sport and that 61% say sports contributed to their career success (EY Women Athletes Business Network/espnW, 2014). The launch of UPBYCF is bounded in these statistics and in past experiences both Turners have had with nonprofits such as The Boys and Girls Club, Big Homie Project, and Play MakeHers. Yearly clinics at UPB have focused on women’s empowerment, and tackled issues like access to sports, and hunger.