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NBA draft 2022: Jeremy Sochan’s journey to the NBA via Southampton and Milton Keynes

“For me it’s LeBron James, just standing next to him on a court will be crazy. And you know, he plays my position so I could be guarding him.”

There is a broad smile across the face of Jeremy Sochan – his voice radiating a level of delight – as he contemplates what potentially lies ahead.

The 19-year-old is one of the top prospects going into the 2022 NBA Draft (00:00 GMT, Friday, 24 June). An annual event which sees eligible players selected to join the league.

For the teenager, a childhood dream is about to become reality – a dream which began on the UK’s south coast.

Although originally born in Guymon, Oklahoma, his family moved to the UK when he was two years old.

They settled in Southampton – and with his mum playing professional basketball he was always surrounded by the game.

“I always remember I used to follow my mum, just being on the court. You know just playing, trying to shoot, trying to score a basket,” he told BBC Sport.

At the age of six he joined his local team – the Solent Kestrels – and credits the club with developing his skill level and love for the sport.

After a few years living on the south coast – his family were on the move again – this time to Milton Keynes where he joined the MK Trojans.

“Although I’ve always been tall, always one of the tallest in the class, I never really had any pressure to play basketball. I played football as well, as a goalkeeper. When I was 12, I had to pick a sport to take seriously and basketball was it,” he said.

Like many young basketball players in the UK – Sochan says playing in the NBA was always the target.

Yet he knew the challenge ahead. In the 75-year history of the NBA only seven players developed in the UK have played in the league. Luol Deng, John Amaechi and Robert Archibald among the most notable names.

In fact, the last British player to enter an NBA draft was Ryan Richards in 2010 – and although he was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs – he never played a game for the team.

Still Sochan’s family knew his best chance of achieving his goal was for them to move back to America. He was 16 when they made the decision.

Sochan was named the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year in 2022

Just 60 players each year are selected in the draft. The eligibility criteria means players wanting to play in the league must have attended college/university in America. A handful of international prospects are also invited to be part of the draft process.

“If I wanted to do big things with basketball I did have to leave England. I think my mum understood that because she played basketball as well. She was open to it and I know what they’ve had to sacrifice, but in the end I know why I’m doing it. I love my parents and I’m doing it for them as well,” Sochan said.

After a year spent playing for Baylor University he’s declared for the NBA Draft and has been attracting interest from several teams.

“I mean, it’s been crazy. Something I never expected. Of course the combine was the first thing that really happened. I talked to a bunch of teams and interviewed with them. I had my pro day as well.

“It was great times. I’ve already worked out for two teams, the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder and they’ve both been great. I think just being in that environment, seeing the facilities, I think it’s been great for me. So yeah, it’s really exciting.”

It’s almost impossible to miss Sochan on the court. A power forward measuring 6ft 9in and weighing 104kg. He’s a ‘two-way player’ as good offensively as he his defensively.

As a child, Sochan used to call out the name “Kevin Durant” as he launched the ball towards the basket. Now it seems surreal that he could be sharing a court or even a locker room with the Brooklyn Nets player he considers a hero.

“For me, Kevin Durant was that guy. I remember when he was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder and they came to Manchester for a friendly game, so I got to see him play up close.

“Then there’s LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green. I think I play a lot like Draymond – but as for players I am excited about being up close to, I could sit here and name them all,” he jokes.

Potentially guarding James is on a long list of life goals for the 19-year-old, but with a lucrative contact almost inevitable that list also includes getting his driving license so he can buy his first car.

And while Sochan’s club-level destination is still to be decided – his international allegiance has already been made.

Eligible to play for the USA and Team GB – in the end he chose to represent Poland, the country of his mother’s birth.

And while he admits it was a close run-in between Team GB and Poland – the winner was decided by where he felt most supported.

“I just felt like the Polish national team and the GB team have a few differences. I think there’s a lot more money in the Polish national team, a lot more opportunity. And I think that really played a part,” he adds.

“GB has a tonne of potential. I mean, it could be one of the greats, I think personally. But I feel like there needs to be more resources, more money involved in the game of basketball and hopefully that will come, but that’s the main reason why I chose Poland.”

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