CHICAGO — Jeremy Sochan’s mother, Aneta, left him a line as he began his basketball journey a few years ago: “Be cheeky.”
“I’ve always had that little edge,” Sochan said Friday. “My mum, she was my first coach, and to this day she tells me defense comes first. … She used to tell me to be cheeky, to be able to see the play two steps forward. So, I think with that, being cheeky, maybe getting into people’s spaces, can separate their games and they can play worse. There are examples: Draymond (Green), Patrick (Beverley), Jrue (Holiday), so there are so many. I feel like I can be one of them in the next step.
Next up for Sochan, the Baylor forward who turned 19 on Friday, was heading to the NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena for interviews with teams who witnessed his rapid rise to a potential lottery pick, as well as a day of professional training. presented by his agency, Tandem Sports + Entertainment. Led by veteran agent and attorney Jim Tanner, Tandem represents several NBA players, including Ja Morant, Jarrett Allen and Desmond Bane, as well as Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Tamika Catchings.
At the end of January, our NBA draft guru, Sam Vecenie, ranked Sochan 29th on his big board. But after Sochan’s strong second half for the Bears, then defending national champions, his stock went to Pluto. He was No. 9 on Vecenie’s latest chart released earlier this month. It is not yet guaranteed that Sochan will make it into the top 10; some teams still rated him mid-teens. But he’s definitely a first-half, first-round guy now. He has what the NBA wants in modern wing defenders. Switchability. Length. Big feet.
There were 17 professional days scheduled during the combine. Some, like Shaedon Sharpe’s workout, the mystery man of this year’s draft, were solo performances. At the other end of the spectrum, giant agency Excel had 24 players scheduled to train together on their pro day on Saturday.
Tandem is somewhere in the middle: there were eight players in practice on Friday. Tandem’s other clients included Iowa State Guard Izaiah Brockington, a CJ Myles type with more springs; BYU guard Alex Barcello, who bears a striking resemblance to longtime NBA starter Kirk Hinrich; Tevin Brown, Murray State Guard; Georgetown forward Aminu Mohammed; Florida State great Malik Osborne; and several international actors.
But Sochan was the main draw.
Sochan’s origin story is unusual, even for the NBA. Both of his parents played basketball at Division II Panhandle State in Oklahoma, but Sochan grew up in England, where his late father, Ryan Williams, played for the Reading Rockets and Bristol Flyers. His mother emigrated from Poland to play Panhandle, as she was a playmaker for SKK Polonia Warszawa in Warsaw. Jeremy started acting as a child in England. With his mother’s Polish nationality, he was able to play for the Polish national under-16 team and later became the youngest member of the Poland senior national team. He then came to the United States himself, playing Indiana High School at La Lumière before going to Baylor.
“I’m just saying I’m a citizen of the world,” Sochan said. “I have a really unique background. … I’ve really met new people, new coaches. I feel like being a global citizen is the best way to describe it. Every time people say : ‘Where are you from ?’ that’s a tough question. I’m like, ‘Good question.’ It takes a lot of minutes to explain this.
Representatives of the Grizzlies, Wizards, Magic, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls, Pelicans, Bucks and Spurs were among the many in attendance Friday. The Spurs and Knicks are among the teams that conducted interviews with him during the week; Sochan sprung from his meeting with Manu Ginóbili, who is part of San Antonio’s entourage in Chicago. The practice probably didn’t change much of his mind about the 6-9 Sochan, who was the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection and a member of the Big 12 team. 12 All-Freshman despite modest, earthly numbers. (9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists). Sochan’s game has evolved as his multicolored hairstyles did this season.
His ticket to the NBA Green Room on June 23 is his defense, being able to go from one to five and disrupt nice offensive sets, game after game. He sees in him “a young Boris Diaw, pieces of Jimmy Butler – just players with a lot of versatility on both sides of the pitch, affecting the game, not even on the box score, but doing small things, getting under people’s skin. Just being that irritating player too.
Injuries at Baylor forced him to play small ball five, and he got into it quickly.
“The things he’s really good at – defending, running the floor, getting up on screens and rollers – he’s not going to do it here,” said a veteran of the staff present. “But it shows us how much he worked on his shot.”
That work was, honestly, hit or miss on Friday, although Tandem performance director Gilbert Abraham pushed for positivity as Sochan flew to the wings or stood in the corner to pop 3s. Sochan and his bandmates roam Spain, pick-and-pops and many other classic NBA half-court sets.
“No rush, no rush – down, stick. It’s the wrist,” Abraham tells Sochan as he positions himself for the corner 3s. But the pass rate for much of his training was a little lower than what NBA teams will want from 3rd-easiest on the court. Still, even though Sochan shot less than 30% from 3s at Baylor, his shot is far from broken. He managed to put the ball on deck. And he should definitely be able to finish on the rim at the next level without much difficulty.
“He looked really good to me,” another team executive said on Saturday.
Sochan then made 3 of 4 3-pointers from the top of the sideline, then muscled Abraham into the paint before firing a running hook – the type of countermove Sochan will need to master in the NBA as well.
“I’m sending this stuff back to Britain next time,” Abraham told Sochan after a drive. “I’m sending him back to Poland next time.”
NBA folks sat quietly during practice. They rarely spoke to each other, even in low voices. But one of them shouted: “Let’s go, my birthday boy!” as Sochan completed a drill where he had to dive, again and again, from a standing start.
After an hour, Sochan’s day is over. He didn’t shoot as well as he would have liked, but he did what he had to do. Tanner has been doing this for decades; he knows who to turn to for the unvarnished truth. Sochan did well. He will return to Frisco, Texas, where he trains, and will continue to work on his shooting before beginning the final leg of the journey: individual training for the teams in June, just before the draft.
“We did a bit (defending) at the end, with the two-on-two, the screen work, but you can’t really show too much,” Sochan said after his presentation. I feel like they’re going to have that in mind, and when I go to team training, I can show a little more. And no matter who chooses me, I will be able to show it during training and matches.
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(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)