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Wednesday 29 June 2022 16:53, UK
Jeremy Sochan is flying the flag for Great Britain in the 2022 NBA Draft and is projected by most draft analysts to be a lottery pick.
His heritage is complex. Born to a Polish mother and an American father, he plays for the Polish national team and was born in Oklahoma.
He then moved to England when he was two and has lived there for most of his life, in Milton Keynes primarily. He describes himself, appropriately, as a "citizen of the world" but his love for the game started here in the UK.
"I think it might have been my granddad actually, he put basketball in my hands, but it's always been around me," Sochan said. "My dad played, my mom played, so it's always been there.
"It definitely began in England. I think it was around 13 when I started actually being serious about it. I had to scrap football and stop focusing on basketball only and that's when I knew that I had a chance."
More than a chance now, he stands on the cusp of stepping into the biggest league in the world and cannot wait for the opportunity. He's by no means the finished article, but he's ready for the next step. In his solitary season at Baylor, Associated Press journalist Dave Sketta wrote that "there may be no better defensive player in the nation than Sochan", given his athletic skills coupled with a 6'9" frame that gives him the ability to guard anyone from point guards to post players.
The lottery prospect averaged 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds for the Bears and turned 19 only last month. He has worked out for the Oklahoma City Thunder – the team he started following when they played in Manchester back in 2013 – as well as the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers. He also had a zoom call with the Indiana Pacers after missing the workout due to travel issues.
The teenager speaks with a friendly assurance when joining Sky Sports and the assembled media for a pre-Draft chat. He is certainly not daunted by following in the footsteps of the host of international greats who have represented the league with such repute. Particularly as someone with such a diverse background, it's something he feels it's right for him to do and he looks forward to blazing a trail at the next level.
"I think it means so much to me," Sochan said. "I mean, I think it's really exciting. There isn't anyone else from England or Poland. So I feel like just connecting those communities together and being the inspiration and a presence I think will be exciting for me and I think I'm going to be able to help others and I'm really excited to do things in those countries as well."
Strengths: Sochan's physical tools are off the charts, at 6'9" and 230 lbs. He has a long wingspan that makes him a dynamic defender on both the perimeter and in the post, and his leaping ability makes him a solid contributor on the boards. He has a developing post-game and plays with energy.
Concerns: Sochan has the ability to take over games, but he's yet to showcase that killer instinct on a team that has been forced to play shorthanded due to injuries. He also needs to improve his handle if he wants to become a truly position-less player, and his outside shot (29.6 per cent from the 3-point arc) and free-throw shooting (58.9 per cent) need work.
Pick projection: Sochan's draft stock with most people sees him landing in the 10-15 range of the lottery but he could either rise or fall depending on whether teams are impressed with his instantly-translateable defense, while the offense may take a little longer to cook. Either way, it seems more than likely that Great Britain will have a first-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Ousmane Dieng of France moved to Australia for a season to hone his skills. Nikola Jovic stayed home in Serbia.
Both are expected to end up in the NBA, though, since they are among the top international prospects in Thursday night's draft.
Both are versatile 6'10" wings who only recently turned 19-years-old after completing their first professional season.
Dieng played for the New Zealand Breakers in Australia's National Basketball League as part of its Next Stars program, which has become a hotspot for NBA prospects. Jovic was voted top prospect in the ABA League after his first full season for Belgrade club Mega, which produced reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic – and there's a similarity in game to his fellow Serb and back-to-back league MVP.
Strengths: Multi-faceted scorer with court vision and playmaking skills. He averaged 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists this season and shot 36.5 per cent from 3-point range.
Jovic told reporters he had worked out for the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs – as of Monday both teams had three first-round picks – the Denver Nuggets (the 21st and 30th selections), the Chicago Bulls (No 18), the Minnesota Timberwolves (No 19), and the Milwaukee Bucks (the 24th pick). He also had workouts scheduled with the Miami Heat, who have the 27th pick, and the champion Golden State Warriors (No 28).
"My basketball IQ is really good, shooting-wise I'm really good, also passing. Those are things I can immediately translate to the NBA," Jovic said.
Concerns: Jovic doesn't possess an explosive first step. Entering the season at 200 lbs, there were also concerns about his strength, but he has bulked up and now weighs 224lbs.
"I'm working on my whole body. Core stability is really important for me," said Jovic, who turned 19 this month.
Rafael Barlowe, director of scouting at NBA Big Board, said Jovic projects as "a league-average defender" and said the right fit will be vital: "He could end up in a bad situation like Deni Avdija (Washington Wizards) on team where he doesn't have the opportunity to handle the ball and he's stuck in a corner."
The lanky Frenchman recovered from a slow start in Australia to show flashes of why he could be a potential lottery pick.
Strengths: Perimeter skills, playmaking potential, can defend multiple positions. He averaged 8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. His 3-point shooting percentage was in the single digits early, but over the final 12 games of the season it was 35 per cent.
"I just needed to find my rhythm and kept working on my game," he said.
Dieng worked out with "a lot" of teams but declined to name them.
"I can fit in any team because I'm pretty versatile, so I can do whatever the coach wants me to do," he said. "I'm a pretty hard worker and really versatile with good vision and can do everything on the floor."
Concerns: Shooting consistency and frame. He needs to add bulk. At 215lbs, he's about 10lbs heavier than early in the season, when he sometimes looked lost.
"The gap between third division in France and the NBL is really big. Everything is quicker and everything is more physical," he said, adding that playing among former NBA players "was really good" for him.
– Ismael Kamagate: A 6'11", 230-lb center for Paris Basket. The 21-year-old Frenchman averaged 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He rejected nine shots in a game against Roanne. French league all-star.
– Khalifa Diop: The latest Senegalese big man, a 7'1", 240-lb center for Gran Canaria in Spain. He averaged 6.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game.
– Hugo Besson: The 21-year-old shooting guard played with Dieng on the New Zealand Breakers. The 6'4" Frenchman averaged 13.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Shot 30.8 per cent from 3-point range.
– Gabriele Procida: An athletic 6-7 Italian who shot 38.3 per cent from behind the arc for Bologna.
The 7'3" Victor Wembanyama of France might have been this year's top pick – possibly last year's too. The 18-year-old will finally be eligible in 2023.
With his size and skills – ball-handling, shooting, rim protection – Wembanyama is considered a generational talent. He finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks against a stacked United States team that included Chet Holmgren in the final of the FIBA Under-19 World Cup last July. He plays for ASVEL, the French team owned by Tony Parker.
Barlowe said: "If he maximises all of his gifts, he could easily be one of the best players in his generation."
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