Latinos in NCAA: Max Lorca-Lloyd discovered his love for basketball, then for his father's homeland of Chile
MIAMI (United States) – As a kid, Max Lorca-Lloyd did not like sports.
And he’ll go even further than that.
“I hated sports,” Lorca-Lloyd said.
Hated sports. He didn’t play any. He didn’t even watch.
“Sports just weren’t my thing,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “All I liked to do was play video games and read. My older brother played football. I tried football and didn’t like it. I also had asthma so I was like, ‘I don’t wanna play sports because I don’t wanna die.’”
Lorca-Lloyd didn’t even understand the basics of America’s second most popular sport.
“I remember the first basketball game I saw was a Lakers-Celtics Finals game,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “Someone was at the free-throw line and I was like, ‘Why are they just letting him take the shot?’ I had no conception of what sports were.”
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Flash forward to 2023. Lorca-Lloyd is a well-decorated Division I NCAA basketball player for the University of Pennsylvania who has routinely starred on the international stage for the Chilean National Team. Now 23 years old, he just wrapped up his senior season at Penn and is plotting his next destination as a graduate transfer.
In three seasons, Lorca-Lloyd racked up 110 points and 139 rebounds for the Quakers. He also ranked fourth in the Ivy League in blocks per game (1.2).
The 6-foot-9 Lorca-Lloyd enrolled at Penn after emerging as an all-conference player at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. Between seasons in America, he has represented Chile, his dad’s native country, numerous times in events ranging from the FIBA Americas U-18 Championship to the South American U-17 Championship.
As a result, Lorca-Lloyd has become a national star in Chile. He estimates that 90 percent of his Instagram followers come from Chile.
From “hating” sports to achieving stardom on two continents, Lorca-Lloyd’s life has evolved drastically in just a decade. How?
It began with some pressure from his mother, Patrice.
“When I was 11, my mom made me go to a basketball clinic,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “I started playing with my friends, and it became fun. I also learned I could dunk, so that made it more fun.”
Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina and raised in Brooklyn, Lorca-Lloyd caught on and developed rapidly.
“After I started playing basketball in sixth grade, I liked it,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “But I really realized I loved it during my junior year of high school, which is when I really started to understand it. My IQ level really started to rise, and I could manipulate the game. That’s been the best part, watching myself grow.”
It was during that time when Lorca-Lloyd was first presented with the chance to visit Chile as a young adult — he’d only been once before as a five-year-old. His dad, Miguel, was born in Santiago, and Lorca-Lloyd has grown to treasure his Chilean heritage. He would suit up for the Chilean Under-17 team at the FIBA South American Championship and, in the process, battle a fierce rival of the Chilean team: Argentina.
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Dad and son boarded a flight south, and Lorca-Lloyd soon donned Miguel’s homeland on his chest.
“My dad really enjoys it,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “I’m glad we get to have a connection through basketball and his home country.
“At the time, I was a big recruit,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “There was a lot of hype from the Chilean media, so I was nervous to come out. I’m not the type of person who likes all that attention, so I was hanging around my dad. I also didn’t speak that much Spanish. He would pass by all these places he used to go to when he was growing up. It was really cool to see that side of his life, and I’m still learning about it.”
The Chilean squad cruised through the tournament in Lima, Peru, toppling Argentina in the championship game, 70-60, to win the Under-17 Championship for the first time. Lorca-Lloyd was the event’s leading rebounder.
“It was a surreal moment for the team,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “I had to go back [to America], but everyone was waiting for the team at the airport in Chile when they got off the plane. Winning that, I was like, ‘Damn, I’m kind of good at basketball. I can do this at a good level.’ It was a realization for me and a historic moment.”
The tournament marked an important new era in Lorca-Lloyd’s relationship with basketball — and with Chile.
“It’s been a huge part of my life,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “It’s given me the opportunity to really show my game on a global stage. I’ve always gotten better when I’ve gone there. I get a lot of support from my Chilean teammates, the media and fans. It’s a whole new group of people supporting me.
“It’s a beautiful country. Whenever you fly in, you see the mountains. I want to go explore those mountains one day.”
Back stateside, Lorca-Lloyd has experienced a topsy-turvy career at Penn, interrupted by both COVID-19 and injury.
After appearing in nine games as a freshman during the 2019-20 season, Lorca-Lloyd’s entire sophomore season was wiped out, as were all Ivy League sports, by the pandemic. Desperate for basketball, Lorca-Lloyd and a few teammates routinely drove to Delaware at 5:00 a.m. to play in pick-up games, skirting Pennsylvania’s strict COVID policies.
“There was nowhere to play,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “We just wanted to hoop, that was it.”
As the pandemic’s grip on the world weakened, the Ivy League announced a return to relative normalcy with a full 2021-22 basketball season.
Lorca-Lloyd earned a starting spot for the Quakers and relished the role. By Penn’s sixth game of the season, at home against Davidson, Lorca-Lloyd was getting into a groove.
Photo: University of Pennsylvania
“I remember I felt myself getting more comfortable,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “I was saying to myself, ‘I’m ready to play and contribute consistently.’”
But with 1:45 left in the game and Davidson leading by 17 points, Lorca-Lloyd stepped on the foot of Foster Loyer, Davidson’s star.
“I felt a pop,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “I felt deflated. I was building up so much momentum. It just went into shambles.”
He’d broken his right foot. Lorca-Lloyd was on an operating table three weeks later for surgery, and his season was over.
“It sucked,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “But I got into the weight room as soon as I got hurt, lifting out the pain.”
Working constantly, Lorca-Lloyd dedicated to his rehab and embraced his affection for basketball to return for a full senior season. Next, after graduating from Penn with a degree in communication, he will transfer for his final two years of NCAA eligibility.
“After the injury, the game was taken away from me for a second time in three years,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “There were points at which I wanted to stop. There were days when I thought, ‘I don’t need basketball anymore.’ But there were also days when I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’d do without basketball.’”
Quite a 180 from hating sports.
“Even when I stop playing,” Lorca-Lloyd said, “I definitely want to stay around basketball.”