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The Truth Valandre Laguna Chauca

This wasn't the plan. This isn't how it was supposed to go.

Academically entering Cal I was solid, 4.5 GPA, decent SAT score, fulfilled all my core requirements, but still, I was nervous about the NCAA clearinghouse. I heard all the stories before, kids getting suspended an entire season because their money hungry prep school coaches forgot they needed that one extra math/social science class. The last thing I was worried about was my amateurism. I got an email saying I had been cleared academically, boy that feeling was a God send. #1 Public University in the World? Who would have thought. My amateurism was still pending but I could care less, that was more or less a formality, or at least I thought. A few days before the first official game of the 2014-2015 season I was called into the Cal Athletic Compliance Office. I was being accused of receiving the ridiculous amount of $25,000 in "extra benefits". Let's get one thing straight, 18/19 year old kid...$25,000...if I had really received that much money I wouldn't be taking the bus or eating pizza 3 nights out of the week. The NCAA investigated and found that I had received $429.25 in "extra benefits" mostly in hotel expenses for high school basketball tournaments. I was suspended 9 games.

Letter from NCAA

But whatever right? It was taken care of, I should just shut my mouth, pay the money, and keep it pushing. So that's exactly what I did. Despite hearing about kids actually receiving $75,000-$200,000 to commit to a university (not that its any of my business), maybe this made the NCAA feel better about themselves? Like they were this saving grace protecting college basketball from impure, immoral situations like my own. I don't know.

Things happen though, push through.

In my first ever collegiate basketball game against Montana I played 41 minutes in a double overtime win as a true freshman, I had 10 points & 6 assists. The future looked promising, I had this vision of entering the starting lineup at some point during the season. The next day I suffered an ankle injury. And that was the story of my freshman year. Injuries.

Things happen though, push through.

My sophomore year I felt confident I would earn my spot in the rotation on a team that included 4 future NBA players and 6 other pros. I was playing really well in practice leading up to a home game against Arizona. I had been waiting patiently for my opportunity, putting up extra shots, sacrificing free time for gym time, I watched film relentlessly trying to improve my IQ, my knowledge of teammates tendencies, opponents weaknesses, etc. I was ready. The day before the Arizona game we had team film. Following film I had asked what time shootaround was, I heard 11:45 a.m. I woke up around 8:30 a.m, I was more than excited and wanted to watch a couple hours of extra film on Arizona. I wanted to get to shootaround early so I left my apartment around 11:10 a.m. Within a minute I received at least 3 or 4 phone calls from various assistant coaches and teammates. Shootaround was 11:15 a.m. I was late. The biggest game of the year, and I was late. I didn't even check-in that game. We won so I was happy for our team, but man...that was really painful. The rest of the season I played angry in practice but no matter how well I did, no matter how many buckets I gave Bird or Jaylen or whoever, I never got another real opportunity.

Things happen though, push through.

Junior year, this has to be the year right? I was in really good shape, shooting the ball better than ever, my pick & roll game was there, and defensively I was improving. I suffered a wrist injury in practice prior to the season, it was broken but I didn't know so I kept playing on it. Two weeks later, in practice during a scrimmage, I had reached for a loose ball and my other wrist got jammed between two teammates. It was broken. The season hadn't even started. 2 broken wrists, what are the odds? I redshirted that season and the head coach that brought me to Cal departed for Missouri to the tune of 7 years $21 million. Are you kidding me? I would of left too.

Things happen though, push through.

Up to this point in my life, I had never quit. I was the 10th ever Filipino-American to play Division I basketball, and the 1st ever Peruvian-American. I had been through a lot, and I represented a lot. My entire life I was always, "good but too short", "fearless but not strong enough", "high IQ but not enough athleticism". I represented all this, sub 6ft guards, the Latinx community, Filipinos, categories rarely seen at the highest level of basketball. The true underdog. How could I quit now? Wyking Jones assumed the head coaching job, sat down with me at the end of the year and said, "get in the best shape of your life." So that's exactly what I did. I woke up every morning that summer at 5 a.m I worked out in the weight room, then on the court, ate some food then went back to the gym in the evenings for endless hours working on my game. Then I went on vacation to Peru with my family, I was excited to get closer to my roots and learn more about my culture and where I come from. I get a text on the last day from Coach Wyking saying, "This is coach Jones, give me a call when you get back." I had known Wyking for about two years, he had never referred to himself as coach Jones.

I call him thinking it would be a normal conversation. I begin telling him how my body is improving and I'm excited to get back to work, he stops me. "For the betterment of this program, I am removing you from the team."

My heart fell to my stomach.

I kept asking why, and told him whatever needed to be fixed I can fix it. Whatever I need to do, I will do. My mom and dad are in the room with me, my mom started crying, my dad is devastated, and I just let the two most important people in my life down. I keep asking why, and he keeps saying "We just want to go in a different direction, you can either stay here on scholarship, not on the team, or find a new situation." It was June and summer classes already started, there was nowhere I could go. I kept pressing, asking why and then he listed a few reasons.

The first, was that he felt there was not a "level of respect" between us. When coach Martin left, administration was in pursuit of Eric Musselman. They didn't even consider Wyking for the job at first. Then things went south with Musselman and certain people in administration asked me and a couple other returners how we would feel if Wyking got the job. I said we would love it, Wyking is great. I recommended him for a head coaching job where he gets to make millions of dollars and is in charge of young men's lives for the better part of everyday, I don't know how much more respect I could have given him.

The second reason had to do with my friends. At the end of every year we have a Cal Basketball banquet and we are allowed to invite 4 guests. Every year I have invited the same two girls. Anyone that knows me, knows that they are pretty much my family away from home. They both were able to come and I introduced them to coach Wyking, his wife, and his kids. It was all smiles at the time but, over the phone he said that, "It was extremely disrespectful to bring two girls to the end of the year banquet." I responded to this and said, "unlike you coach, I do not have the luxury of having my family live 15 minutes down the street, my apologies but you know that's unfair."

The third reason was that he felt I would not play that much. I started laughing on the phone. I was a 4th year veteran, and was considered one of the best, if not the best shooter on a team full of extremely accurate perimeter shooters (Stephen Domingo, Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, etc). When I played decent minutes my freshman year I shot in the top 98% in the country when guarded which was #1 in the PAC-12.

Things happen though, push through.

Imagine that, my entire life I had worked towards one goal. The dream of playing in front of thousands and positively impacting lives, reaching that goal, and then having it stripped away over reasons that are, frankly illogical. Everything comes into question at this point, am I still a good player? Am I a good person? What did I do to deserve this? I was told that if I try to fight it, my scholarship could be revoked so it was in my best interest to keep quiet and go with the narrative of a "mutual agreement to part ways". So for the next several months I went through some troubling times. There were some dark days. I rarely spoke to anyone, and if I did I would try to mask my pain. I stayed in my room for days at a time, at one point only leaving for food or the bathroom. It was embarrassing. I went to a doctor in Oakland and was diagnosed with depression and they gave me medication for it. Nothing really helped though. I felt lost and hopeless. I felt alone. I hated basketball. I hated myself. All this negative energy was building up, and I felt like I couldn't push anymore.

The season begins and there's a rumor that another player has been kicked off the team for no apparent reason, Koko Kurdoghlian. I felt broken at the time so I didn't reach out, but I felt for him. Koko and I recently connected, and I asked him what happened. Jones told Koko he was of no use to the team, wasn't doing anything to contribute positively, and that his 2.9 GPA was not high enough. In Wyking's contract he receives a bonus for any player that gets above a 3.0 GPA.

Fast forward to today. The Cal basketball team finished 8-24 overall and 2-16 in conference play. It is the worst season in Cal history. Out of 351 division I basketball teams Cal finished dead last in the country in 3-point shooting, and last in virtually every offensive and defensive category in the PAC-12.

And yet again, the coach is cutting players because they serve as an inconvenience for him.

Deschon Winston and Austin Mccullough were cut from the team because they weren't good enough in the eyes of Wyking Jones, the man that offered both of them full athletic scholarships to play at Cal. From a source close to the team, a conversation ensued about Deschon and Austin's reluctance to leave Berkeley, where Jones laughingly said, "Man, I can't get them to leave! I might pull a Brandon Chauca on they asses!"

I was not perfect. I made mistakes. I am not here to slander anyone. This is not a sob story. I am here to point out the obvious. I want people to see the dark business that is college basketball from someone that has been through it. People of power do not, and should not have the luxury of playing with peoples livelihoods.

My family flies in Friday and I will be graduating from Cal on Saturday. I will continue to pursue my professional basketball dreams either as a grad transfer or overseas. I am so thankful for all the incredibly genuine people I have met during my time in Berkeley. I will continue to share my story, and try to inspire those young & old alike to never give up. Things didn't go according to plan but, when one door closes, another opens, and I am going to keep pushing until God tells me to stop. Whatever you are going through, you will find a way, seek help, always do what makes you happy, and keep pushing. Someone you may have never even met before could be counting on you to succeed.

This is the truth, and people deserve to hear it.

Created By
Valandre Chauca
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