CHICAGO — At the NBA Draft Combine, Jeremy Sochan was one of the most social of the prospects and players, open and interesting in media sessions. Even though he wasn’t playing in the scrimmages, he was a fixture through some of the games, standing on the sideline, cheering and joking with other players.
But if you listen to the amiable Sochan, that ends when he gets on the court.
Regarded as possibly the best defensive player in the draft, the 6-9, 230-pound 19-year-old, who has traveled throughout Europe and the United States, insists that he has a different mode when the game begins.
Asked whom he models his game after. he goes through the list of defensive stoppers such as Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges and Miami’s Jimmy Butler. But there is one he particularly enjoys watching — Golden State’s Draymond Green — for his skill and his ability to get under an opponent’s skin.
“I can sense that. I feel like I see a lot on the court,” Sochan said. “I can sense when a player is getting a little bit annoyed or they’re not feeling comfortable. And that just fuels me and also my teammates. Communicate with my teammates and talking to them, tell them, OK, they’re getting more aggravated. Keep pushing.
“I think all the time I’ve watched [Green] and I think recently, maybe this year, maybe the year I was in Germany, I really realized he’s a real presence. He doesn’t have to score, but he involves everyone. He’s that guy who gets under people’s skins, plays good defense. He’s just a presence. You always see him on the court. He doesn’t hide away from anything.”
Sochan has been on a long path to this day. He was born in Oklahoma but moved all around. He attended high school in the United Kingdom, then was on to Germany and to a year of high school in Indiana before returning to Europe for his senior season.
His parents both played basketball at Division II Panhandle State in Oklahoma and his mother, Aneta, was from Poland. With those roots, he became the youngest player in Polish men’s national team history.
“I think it’s unique,” Sochan said. “I think I have one of the more unique backgrounds in this draft. I’ve been in England, Poland and America. I’ve played in all sorts of European countries. I think it’s helped me with maturity, playing with pros, playing with college players and American players. It built me up as a mixture of American-style basketball but also European style basketball.”
He went to Baylor and came off the bench in every game but one last season, averaging 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds. Still, he is projected to land in the lottery, with some predictions placing him as high as eighth.
He credited his mother for instilling the defensive mindset that carries him still.
“My mom used to play basketball and she always used to tell me, defense comes first,” he said. “She used to tell me if I had a bad game, defense comes first and the offense will come as you play good on defense. Definitely, it’s always been there.”
His mother would be pleased. He has impressed enough with his effort and athleticism to rate as the best defensive prospect this year.
“I think so, for my size, my length, the ability to switch one through five on the ball and also the off-the-ball defense,” he said. “Being a communicator, being loud, a little bit scrappy, that makes me the best defender.”