CHICAGO — Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has never met Jeremy Sokan’s mother, Anetta, who played in Oklahoma’s Panhandle State. But it sounds like they’ll get along just fine.
The Baylor freshman’s 6-foot-9 combo forward thinks he’s the best defender in the June 23 draft — something his mother cares about.
“My mom used to play basketball a lot and she always told me that defense comes first,” Sokan said in his British accent Thursday at the NBA Combined Draft in Chicago. “She used to tell me that if I don’t play well, defense comes first, and when you play well on defense, the offense comes. Of course, it’s always there.
These are the phrases Thibodeau recited in his sleep. Sochan is scheduled to meet with the Knicks in Chicago on Friday, but whether he will appear at the No. 11 pick is a question mark. He’s been interviewed by several lottery teams, including the 8-year-old New Orleans.
Although he came off the bench for NCAA powerhouse Baylor, Sochan didn’t see a better defender than himself among the lottery players.
“I think yes, in terms of my size, my height, my ability to go from one to five and defending without the ball,” Soshan said. “Being a communicator, being loud and a little bit scrappy makes me the best defender I can be.”
ESPN College Basketball Master Seth Greenberg, told the Washington Post earlier this month If Sochan is available at 11, he should be the Knicks’ first choice.
After Reggie Bullock signed with Dallas last summer, the Knicks were without a top-notch perimeter defender. RJ Barrett’s improvement this season has been more of a scorer than a guard. Greenberg touted Sokan as the most versatile player in the draft who can guard all five positions.
“I think (I’m) a mix of players with size, size and versatility like Draymond Green, Mikal Bridges, Aaron Gordon,” Sokan said. “I saw a young Boris Diaw, kind of like Jimmy Butler. Just a player with a lot of versatility on both sides of the pitch that would impact the game (that was), not even in boxscore. Do the little things, Touching other people’s skin will also irritate the player.
“I can feel when the players are a little bit angry or they’re not feeling well. That excites me. Defending is fun for me.”
Sounds like Thibodeau’s dream player, except he hasn’t proven to be an ace 3-point shooter. The 19-year-old Sochamp has shot just 29.6 percent from 3-point range in 30 games. He averaged 9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
“But he’s skilled,” an NBA scout said in Chicago. “Good passing, he can dribble.”
“I think my shots are consistent,” Sochan said when asked about areas of improvement. “I need to prove that I can shoot. I feel like I can. It’s just time to show people that.
The NBA is a copycat league. The success of Boston and Miami, two elite defensive teams now in the Eastern Conference finals, has the current team focusing on versatile defenders in this draft.
“Yeah, it really shows what the modern NBA is,” Sochamp said. “People are looking for players like me who can convert from one to five and have that versatility on both sides.”
Sochan also has a versatile background. In short, his mother grew up in Poland but moved to Oklahoma to play college basketball and married an Oklahoma man. Jeremy was born in Suna but moved with his family to England, where he grew up.
But he played for the Polish national team at 16, moved to Indiana, played high school basketball for a year at La Lumiere College, and then went to Germany to play.
“I think I have one of the more unique backgrounds in this draft,” Sochan said. “I’ve been to England, Poland, America. I’ve played in various European countries. I think it helps me mature and play with professional players, college players, American players. A mix of European basketball styles.
Maybe soon Knicks basketball.