EMSB graduate Juan Mendez heads up new Montreal Toundra pro basketball team
Juan Mendez used education and basketball to escape a life of poverty.
“It was tough when you were poor but I was a good student and that opened doors for me,” said Mendez who grew up in Pointe St. Charles long before gentrification took hold.
Mendez, who is the co-owner and general manager of the Montreal Toundra pro basketball team, attended St. Gabriel Elementary School in Pointe St. Charles and James Lyng High School in St. Henri before his basketball talent led him to the United States.
Mendez made history during his four years at Niagara University, a small Catholic college perched on a bluff above the Niagara River.
I was in New York the night he set the record for the most points scored by a Canadian in NCAA Division I basketball, eclipsing the mark established by Hall of Famer Steve Nash at Santa Clara.
The one disappointment was the record-setting performance came in a loss to Manhattan College. The host school wanted to present Mendez with the game ball as a souvenir but Niagara coach Joe Mihalich was disappointed with the loss and left the ball behind.
Niagara won the MAAC conference title that season and qualified for March Madness, losing to Oklahoma in the first round. He was the MAAC player of the year and earned his third consecutive all-star team recognition.
Mendez finished his college career with 2,210 points and is part of a select group of Division I players with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
After completing his degree, Mendez had an opportunity to see the world. In between representing Canada at such events as the Pan American Games, he played professional basketball in
Italy, Greece, Israel, China and Ukraine. He finished his pro career with the Montreal Jazz in 2014.
Mendez was an assistant coach at McGill and did some recruiting work while working to put together a group of investors and secure a franchise in The Basketball League (TBL).
The TBL is a development league with 49 teams, most of which are located in the United States.
“The level is Pro B and we’re giving local players a chance to develop and be seen by higher leagues,” said Mendez.
The team plays its home games at the Centre Pierre Charbonneau which is located off Viau in the Olympic Park.
Montreal Toundra players have already been visiting EMSB schools and will continue to do so during the season.
For more details go to www.mtltoundra.com.