Jeremy Sochan’s journey to be ‘that irritating player’ in the NBA continued at Chicago pre-draft camp

CHICAGO — Jeremy Sochan’s mother, Aneta, left him with one phrase as he began his basketball sojourn a few years ago: “Be cheeky.”

“I’ve always had that little edge,” Sochan said Friday. “My mom, she was my first coach, and to this day, she tells me defense comes first. … She used to tell me to be cheeky, being able to see the play two steps ahead. So, I feel with that, being cheeky, maybe getting into people’s spaces, can separate their games, and they can play worse. There’s examples: Draymond (Green), Patrick (Beverley), Jrue (Holiday), so there’s so many. I feel like I can be one of those in the next step.”

The next step for Sochan, the forward from Baylor who turned 19 on Friday, was coming to the NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena for interviews with teams that have witnessed his rapid rise into a potential lottery pick, as well as a pro-day workout put on by his agency, Tandem Sports + Entertainment. Headed by veteran agent and attorney Jim Tanner, Tandem represents multiple 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 had Sochan ranked 29th on his big board. But after Sochan’s strong second half for the then-defending national champion Bears, his stock has gone to Pluto. He was No. 9 on Vecenie’s latest board released earlier this month. It’s not yet guaranteed that Sochan will go top 10; some teams still have him ranked in the mid-teens. But he’s definitely a top-half-of-the-first-round guy now. He has what the NBA wants in modern-day wing defenders. Switchability. Length. Great feet.

There were 17 pro days scheduled during the combine. Some, like the workout for Shaedon Sharpe, the mystery man of this year’s draft, were solo performances. At the other end of the spectrum, the behemoth agency Excel had 24 players scheduled to work out together at its pro day Saturday.

Tandem is somewhere in the middle: It had eight players at Friday’s workout. 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; Murray State guard Tevin Brown; Georgetown forward Aminu Mohammed; Florida State big Malik Osborne; and multiple international players.

But Sochan was the main draw.

Sochan’s origin story is unusual, even for the NBA. Both 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 at Panhandle, as she was a point guard for SKK Polonia Warszawa in Warsaw. Jeremy started playing as a kid in England. With his mother’s Polish citizenship, he was able to play for the Polish under-16 national team, then became the youngest member of Poland’s senior national team. He then came to the United States himself, playing high school in Indiana at La Lumiere before going to Baylor.

“I just say I’m a citizen of the world,” Sochan said. “I have a really unique background. … I’ve really experienced new people, new coaches. I feel like being a citizen of the world is the best way to describe that. Whenever people say, ‘Where are you from?’ it’s kind of a difficult question. I’m like, ‘Good question.’ It takes a lot of minutes to explain this.”

Representatives from 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 gushed about meeting Manu Ginóbili, part of San Antonio’s entourage in Chicago. The workout didn’t likely change many minds about the 6-9 Sochan, who was Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, an All-Big 12 honorable mention selection and a member of the Big 12 All-Freshman team despite modest, terrestrial numbers (9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists). Sochan’s evolved game as his multicolored hairstyles did this season.

His ticket to the NBA’s green room on June 23 is his defense, being able to switch one through five and disrupt pretty offensive sets, play after play. He sees in himself “a younger Boris Diaw, bits of Jimmy Butler — just players with lots of versatility on both sides of the court, affect the game, not even on the box score, but doing little things, getting under people’s skin. Just being that irritating player, as well.”

Injuries at Baylor forced him to play small-ball five, and he took to it quickly.

“The stuff that he’s really good at — defending, running the floor, getting up on screen-and-rolls — he’s not going to do that here,” a veteran personnel man in attendance said. “But this shows us how much he’s worked on his shot.”

That work was, honestly, hit and miss Friday, even as Tandem’s director of performance, Gilbert Abraham, pushed positivity as Sochan flared to the wings or stood in the corner to pop 3s. Sochan and his cohorts run through Spain, pick-and-pops and many of the NBA’s other classic half-court sets.

“No rush, no rush — down, stick. It’s the wrist,” Abraham tells Sochan as he spots up for corner 3s. But the hit rate during much of his workout was a little lower than NBA teams will want from the easiest 3 spot on the court. Still, even though Sochan shot less than 30 percent on 3s at Baylor, his shot is far from broken. He was able to put the ball on the deck. And he definitely should be able to finish at the rim at the next level without much difficulty.

“He looked really good to me,” another team executive said Saturday.

Sochan later made 3 of 4 3-pointers from the top of the key, then muscled Abraham into the paint before shooting a running hook — the type of countermove that Sochan also will need to master in the NBA.

“I’m throwing that thing back to Britain next time,” Abraham said to Sochan after a drive. “I’m throwing it back to Poland next time.”

The NBA people sat quietly during the workout. They rarely talked to each other, even in whispers. But one yelled out, “Let’s go birthday boy!” as Sochan finished a drill where he had to dunk, over and over, from a standing start.

After an hour, Sochan’s day is done. He didn’t shoot it as well as he would have liked, but he did what he had to do. Tanner’s been doing this for decades; he knows who to ask to get the unvarnished truth. Sochan did fine. He’ll go back to Frisco, Texas, where he’s training, and keep working on his shooting before starting on the last leg of the journey: individual workouts for teams in June, just before the draft.

“We did a little bit (of defense) at the end, with the two-on-two, the screen work, but you can’t really show too much,” Sochan said after his showcase. I feel like they’re going to have that in mind, and when I go to team workouts, I’ll be able to show a little bit more of that. And whoever picks me, I’ll be able to show that in practices and games.”


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(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

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