CHICAGO – Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has never met Jeremy Sochan’s mother, Lilian, who played at Panhandle State in Oklahoma. But it sounds like they’d get along quite well.
The Baylor freshman 6-foot-9 combo forward feels he’s the best defender in June 23rd’s draft – which is all his mother cared about.
“My mom used to play basketball and she always used to tell me, defense comes first,” Sochan said in his British accent Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “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.”
Those are phrases Thibodeau recites in his sleep. Sochan planned to meet with the Knicks in Chicago Friday, but whether he will be available at the No. 11 pick is a question mark. He’s interviewed with a handful of lottery teams, including New Orleans at 8
Even though he came off the bench for NCAA powerhouse Baylor, Sochan doesn’t see a better defender among the lottery guys than himself.
“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,” Sochan said. “Being a communicator, being loud, a little bit scrappy, that makes me the best defender.”
Seth Greenberg, the ESPN college-basketball guru, told The Post earlier this month Sochan should be the Knicks’ pick if he’s available at 11.
The Knicks were absent a top-notch perimeter defender once Reggie Bullock signed with Dallas last summer. RJ Barrett’s progression occurred more as scorer than defender this season. Greenberg touted Sochan as the draft’s most versatile player, who can defend all five positions.
“I think (I’m) a mixture of players, players with length, size, versatility, like Draymond Green, Mikal Bridges, Aaron Gordon,” Sochan said. “I see a younger Boris Diaw, bits of Jimmy Butler. Just players with a lot of versatility on both sides of the court affecting the game (that’s) not even in the boxscore. Doing little things and getting under people’s skin, irritating players as well.
“I can sense when a player is getting little bit annoyed or they’re not feeling comfortable. And that just fuels me. Defense is fun for me.”
Sounds like Thibodeau’s dream player, except he hasn’t proven to be an ace 3-point shooter. Sochan, 19, shot just 29.6 percent from 3 in 30 games. He averaged 9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
“But he’s skilled,” an NBA scout said in Chicago. “Good passer and he can dribble.”
”I think consistency in my shot,” Sochan said when asked about improvement areas. “I need to prove that I can shoot. I think I can. It’s just the amount of 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 current teams focusing on versatile defensive players in this draft.
”Yeah, it really shows what the modern NBA is,” Sochan said. “People are looking for players like me, who can switch 1-through-5 and have that versatility on both sides.”
Sochan has a versatile background, too. In a nutshell, his mother grew up in Poland but moved to Oklahoma to play college basketball and married an Oklahoman. Jeremy was born in Sooner State but moved with his family to England, where he was raised.
But he played for the Polish National team at age 16, moved to Indiana to play a year of high school basketball at La Lumiere Academy and then went to play in Germany.
“I think I have one of the more unique backgrounds in this draft,” Sochan said. “I’ve been in England, Poland, 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, American players. It built me up as a mixture of American style basketball, but also European style of basketball.
Maybe soon Knicks’ basketball.