Pleasanton’s senior point guard and leading scorer Santiago Arguijo may have never played basketball if not for a chance encounter and a mother’s sacrifice for her son’s dreams.
As an eighth grader, Santiago was an avid skateboarder. He spent as much time possible mastering tricks he saw on YouTube on the concrete basketball slab at the Pleasanton River Park.
“That’s when he was doing skateboarding and bike riding,” said Santiago’s mother, Zulema. She noticed while watching there was something special about her second-youngest child in a family of six kids. “He was doing tricks and accomplishing all that.”
Some of the tricks left Santiago’s mother astounded. “I was like, ‘Wow! How can you handle the board like that,’” she thought.
The answer was simple. Santiago had an internal drive to create a better life for himself.
Santiago, or Tavo as he’s affectionately known by those closest to him, wanted to dedicate his time to finding something to succeed in and provide pride for his family. At the time, skateboarding seemed like a good outlet for 14-year-old Santiago.
One day while skating at the park, a group of kids were short a body to play a full game of basketball. They asked Santiago if he wanted to make the teams even.
Santiago said he didn’t play well, but agreed. He fell in love with the game then and there.
“So, I quit skateboarding to play basketball,” Santiago said.
The pieces were put in motion for Santiago to become a top-notch basketball player. He took the same approach he did to skateboarding — watch YouTube videos of professionals, mainly Golden State’s Steph Curry, and practice what he saw on that same concrete slab where he had mastered countless tricks on his skateboard.
Santiago would practice the form by staying at the park until he made 1,000 shots.
“By doing that, I feel like I can accomplish anything that I do,” Santiago said.
That drive carried onto the hardwood for the Pleasanton Eagles and Head Coach Ricardo Marquez.
Marquez heard about Santiago the summer of 2016, before his freshman year at Pleasanton. The one thing that stood out when he entered the program was Santiago’s willingness to learn and get better.
“He’s one of those who wants to go out there and wants to learn,” Marquez said. “When he was a freshman, he wanted to get better. That’s all I saw. He wanted to make his ball handling better, so he’d go out there and dribble, dribble, dribble. I’m pretty sure he was looking up YouTube videos for that, too. He was always playing down at the park. You could tell he loved the game, that he always wanted to be there.”
Since then, Santiago has won District MVP honors in consecutive years and is on pace for a third accolade.
Santiago felt something still had to happen somewhere for him to accomplish his goals. Santiago wants to be the first of his siblings to graduate high school. Living in a crowded home with his mother, father, younger brother, sister and her kids didn’t feel like an environment where he could achieve his biggest goals.
At the end of his freshman year, Santiago began spending the night with his friend and teammate, Kade Loeffler, and his family.
Santiago’s living arrangement started out as a temporary move made out of practicality.
The boys were going to travel basketball tournaments with the team that Kade’s father, Kurt, coached.
“This kid just showed up with Kade and started spending the night and kept spending the night,” joked Cheryl Loeffler. “He’s been here ever since.”
“Kurt asked me to [stay],” Santiago interjected with a laugh.
The Loefflers took Santiago in as one of their own and he started to flourish. At the end of their sophomore year, Marquez asked Santiago and Kade to be captains of the teams.
Santiago felt sure he was in a position where he could make his dreams come true and wanted to make the move to the Loeffler’s permanent during high school. Zulema met the proposition with some skepticism at first.
“You can’t just move because you want to,” said Zulema said to her son. “I’ve got to talk to the family. What if they’re not ok with it? What if they’re tired of you there? You don’t know.” Santiago responded by saying he asked all of those questions and that the Loefflers were on board with the move.
Santiago’s mom realized the move was to the benefit of her son and his dreams.
“I do anything he ever asks of me,” Zulema said. “I’m very grateful, I’m very appreciative that they accept him to live there with them as one of their own. That’s what he really wanted. He needed his space and he couldn’t have space at my house because he’s the number five kid and I have six kids. It’s a lot of work and then I have grandkids.”
So, the parents worked out the details for the move and it turned out to be simple with Santiago already carrying himself as a young adult.
“I mean, he’s already full grown. It’s not like [Cheryl] is gonna do diaper changes,” Zulema joked. “So, it’s basically just being there, supporting him and what he loves.”
By allowing her son to move out and chase his dreams, Zulema showed her unselfish love for Santiago.
“It means she wants the best for me, for life,” Santiago said.
“I have so much admiration and respect for his mom for saying yes and letting him stay here because she wants the best for him,” Cheryl added. “So, I have a lot of respect for her making that decision because a lot of parents wouldn’t do that for their own sense of pride. They would worry about how it looks or something. She’s worried about his wellbeing.”
The Loefflers now see Santiago as one of their own. With Marquez taking Santiago in as an extended member of his family as well, Tavo’s mom feels overwhelmingly blessed to have this many people looking out for her son.
Santiago is on pace to graduate high school this spring, which would make him the first of his siblings to receive his high school diploma. He also has plans for after high school, including going to college and also taking up welding
“It’s crazy because I never thought I would be in this situation, to be playing basketball and being here with [the Loefflers],” Santiago said. “If they didn’t accept me to stay here, I probably wouldn’t be here, accomplishing the things I have.”
His mother says his plans go well beyond just attending college and getting a degree, or taking up welding.
“His dream is the NBA,” Zulema said. “I don’t know what team he wants [to play on]. His dad tells him he better play for the Spurs … I know he’s taking up welding, but I know his heart is set on the NBA.”