The Big Fish Got Away From Me But Jeremy Sochan Used Orange Academy As A Stepping Stone For His Path To The NBA

It was January 2021 and nothing was normal in the world or for me. Covid was all over the place and driving people crazy while I was stuck deep in my Cancer struggle. I will continue to say it to this day. Basketball saved my life. Even with all this pain in the world thank God for basketball. It was January 20th and despite having had chemotherapy only 2 days before and feeling weak, I wasn’t going to miss calling any games. I was calling a routine Pro B game between two of Germany’s best youth programs with the Fraport Skyliners Juniors and Orange Academy in Frankfurt. I had already seen Orange Academy once in December 2020 in Koblenz and in that game a fellow by the name of Igor Milicic really stood out for me. A Polish player with real family history with a well known dad who had had a great career and was coaching in Poland and a younger brother Zoran supposedly even more talented than Igor. In the game Igor posted 19 points and showed his vast versatility at both ends of the court while hitting 4 three’s. I went on two write an article about the flashy Polish player 9 days after my I saw him my second time. I’m known for having a liking of interviewing Americans or just really talented guys who have a massive future ahead of them. It’s no secret that I love to say ‘you see that NBA player, I interviewed him when he was unknown or still young’. I had had a 50-50 chance of picking that player that would blast off like only few would have predicted. It was between Igor Milicic and Jeremy Sochan (6’9”-F-2003) of who I would interview after the game. I made the wrong choice as time would tell picking Igor. At the end of the day, I was really happy to have interviewed Igor because he was a real nice guy and I truly loved his game. But basketball is so fascinating how certain guy’s paths move. 16 months after this encounter, Jeremy Sochan the guy I didn’t interview was drafted at #9 by the San Antonio Spurs at the 2022 NBA draft. I’m not totally sure, but I believe I did talk to Jeremy Sochan after the game and got his email address so I could interview him. It never came to an interview mainly because I misplaced the email address and never found it. That really annoyed me that I didn’t. The big fish got away from me. What did Jeremy Sochan do in 16 months to get drafted by the NBA?. Obviously his choice of going to 2021 NCAA champion Baylor was correct. Orange Academy Definitely was a stepping stone for Jeremy Sochan‘s path to the NBA.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber interviewing big Polish talent Igor Milicic in January 2021 in Frankfurt

The Polish/American forward may only be 19 years old, but has seen a lot in his young life. He was born in Guymon, Oklahoma. His mother Aneta was a Polish basketball player that went to the United States to study. Early in his life he moved to England in 2005 and got his first basketball experience for the Solent Kestrels youth team and also played for Itchen College in Southhampton. His final club in the UK was the MK Trojans in Milton Keynes. He returned back to the United States and played at the Lumiere School in Indiana. When Covid hit in 2020 he declared to play for Baylor (NCAA), but wouldn’t go right away as he would go to Europe and play for Orange Academy the farm team of easyCredit BBL team ratiopharm Ulm in the Pro B (3rd division Germany). He came to Germany with his first big success in basketball helping the Polish U-16 team win the European championships. He exploded in the tournament playing 8 games averaging 16.1ppg, 9.6rpg, 3.0apg, Steals-4 (3.1spg), 1.5bpg, FGP: 56.4%, 3PT: 26.9%, FT: 57.1%. He scored in double figures in 7 of 8 games and had 4 double doubles. He had massive games against Bulgaria with 28 points and hit Hungary for 21 points.

I reach ex Jeremy Sochan coach Anton Gavel on an early Friday afternoon less than a day before he would be officially named ratiopharm Ulm head coach. The athletic forward who can finish with the best of them and is a fine passer first had contact to ratiopharm Ulm in 2017 and visited Orange Campus in 2018. ‘Chris Ensminger gets all the credit for finding Jeremy. We had had him on our radar for a while. We felt very lucky being able to get a player like that for our program’, stressed ratiopharm Ulm head coach Anton Gavel. That first impression is so important in all walks of life, but it may not be quite as vital in sports when a player is young simply because he has time to develop. Gavel remembers exactly how it was when he saw Jeremy Sochan step on the court at Orange Academy for that first practice in 2020. ‘I could see right away that he was very athletic. But like with all young players would need time. He would have that time with us. I saw he had a lot of talent and knew that he could be a great player’, remembered Anton Gavel. He showed rapidly in pre season that he could play and had a few games scoring 20 points, but he then suffered an injury that would keep him out until October 30th when he gave his debut in Germany. In his first game he wasted no time showing that versatility could be a new middle name for him as he had a stat filling game in the exciting 72-70 win over FC Bayern Munich 2 recording 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and 4 blocks. ‘What many didn’t see then was that he could defend the positions 1-4. Of course we used that advantage. He was very mobile and very quick off the floor going after his own misses. He was a good rebounder and loved to get in the open court. He still had to work on his shot, but there were also games where he showed a stable three pointer. We liked putting him on the other team’s best player’, remembered Anton Gavel. He had very good outside shooting games against FC Munich 2, Frankfurt and Dresden. There were games where he didn’t take control, but on a young team that had so much talent, Gavel did a super job sharing the team roles well and having a team where many could take over on any night. One of those more quiet nights was against Oberaching where he contributed 6 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 19 minutes. Despite not having a big game, Oberaching head coach Mario Matic saw something special in his game. ‘He was a big and athletic wing player with the qualities of an American in the Pro B. He also could shoot the ball well. I was a bit surprised the kind of development he took. He must have been exactly what the NBA was looking for as a potential draft pick. Jeremy was able to develop further under Moris Hadzija and in the States’, stated Mario Matic. ‘Training Jeremy was a true blessing, from day one. We all knew his future will be amazing. We spent a great amount of time together in the gym and I was glad to be able to have met him as a person. Wonderful human being, humble, and very competitive’, remembered Moris Hadzija.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber meeting Anton Gavel for the first time in 2006 in Frankfurt

In his season with Orange Academy the Polish national player averaged 9,4ppg, 3.5rpg, 1.9apg, 1.0spg, Blocks-4 (1.4bpg), FGP: 51.8%, 3PT: 24.2%, FT: 52.5%. He scored in double figures in 12 of 19 games including hitting Dresden for 20 points, had Karlsruhe’s number scoring 16 and 14 points and had 14 points against Giessen. He couldn’t score in double figures against Hanau where he had 9 and 6 points in the two games, but left a lasting impression on American Omari Knox who has been grinding his whole career and has carved out a fine career in Germany in the Pro B and Regionalliga. ‘My impression of Jeremy when I played against him the previous season was that he’s an NBA player. Playing in Europe (Germany), definitely helped him a lot but I see him thriving more in an up and down, fast-paced setting’, stressed Omari Knox. Sochan was able to improve his game with experience in the Pro B, but especially the mental aspect of his game grew simply because he always had the right attitude. ‘I think the most important thing that he gained in Germany was that he always went in with the mentality that he had something to prove. He was never satisfied. He was so competitive and always wanted to defend the best player. He just wanted to beat the best’, remembered Anton Gavel. No player had it easy in the Pro B against him especially when he had his A game on on defense. ‘What really stood out was that he was always able to stand in front of his man. He never became irritated by a cross over. This quality is something I believe NBA teams look for and if he can continue to do that at a high level, then I think he will be a very good defender’, stressed ex Fraport Skyliner Matthew Meredith. ‘I think his biggest defensive asset besides athleticism is definitely his inner motor and drive to win and stop opponents’, warned Moris Hadzija. He also demonstrated with the Polish national team and at the 2020 Addidas Next generation tournament that he is the real deal. He played one national team game against Romania winning scoring 18 points and at ANGT averaged 15.5ppg, Reb-2 (12.8rpg), 2.8apg, 1.5spg, 1.3bpg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 24.0%, FT: 55.6%. He scored in double figures in all 4 games and had 3 double doubles. He exploded against top Euroleague team FC Barcelona with 16 points and 16 boards and hit Gran Canaria for 15 points and 17 rebounds. ‘It didn’t matter against who he played, he was always able to meet the challenges’, warned Anton Gavel.

After his fine year with Orange Academy he chose to go to the States and test the waters in the NCAA. He had already committed to Baylor (NCAA) in the summer of 2020 and now was ready for the next step. ‘I think that going to Baylor was absolutely the right step for him. He always liked the big stage and knew that the scouts would be watching. He did all the right things’, expressed Anton Gavel. It surely didn’t hurt his mindset or development going to Baylor that had won the 2021 NCAA tournament. Sochan and co who had another incredible team with guys like Adam Flagler, James Akinjo, and Kendall Brown, but were unable to repeat losing a tough battle against top team North Carolina 93-86 in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Sochan had a fine freshman season playing 30 games averaging 9.2ppg, 6.4rpg, 1.8apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 58.5%, 3PT: 29.6%, FT: 58.9%. He was able to booster his game as he could defend 1-5 and even played point guard against Kansas. He helped Baylor win the Big 12 title and achieved Big 12 best sixth man of the year and was named to Big 12 All-freshman team. He scored in double figures in 14 games and had 2 double doubles. He also had 17 games with at least 1 block and 26 games with at least 1 steal or more. His best scoring games were against Alabama, TCU and Kansas with 17 points apiece. He also finished the season strong scoring in double figures in the Big 12 title run and in the NCAA tournament. Despite popping up on various 2022 NBA Mock Drafts, he was able to continue to play his game and develop without letting the hype distract him during the long NCAA season. He and everybody else connected to him knew he would get drafted. ‘The NCAA can either help or hurt you depending on the player, and their goals. For an NBA prospect like Jeremy it definitely helped to raise his stock by playing and performing on the National stage for a year’, commented Omari Knox. The big night for Jeremy Sochan arrived on June 24th and he was drafted at #9 by the San Antonio Spurs. He didn’t go alone from Baylor as teammate Kendall Brown was also drafted at #48 by the Timberwolves and traded to the Indiana Pacers. ‘I’m so happy for Jeremy. He did all the work and deserved it. I really didn’t do anything. I tried to do as much as I could. He did all the work and made it. I hope that he has a great NBA career’, stressed Anton Gavel.

Now he joins a system with Gregg Popovich that likes to feature players that have the sound fundamentals which is exactly what the ex Orange Academy player has. Also if he wants to have a quick coffee with ex Baylor coach Scott Drew who achieved his 5th first round NBA pick with Sochan will only have to drive 2 hours and 45 minutes for a reunion. In a way all basketball players are a big family and genuinely have respect and love for each other. ‘I’m happy for Jeremy. I think the year at Baylor was pretty much just for him to showcase that he could still play with the best of the guys in his class. I saw that he was already a top talent coming out of prep school so I’m not really surprised that he was drafted’, said Omari Knox. He now will have a very exciting and interesting summer as he prepares for his first NBA training camp with the Spurs. He knows that he still has a long way and will have to grind, grind and grind. ‘I think he will be in good hands and his ceiling is huge but if I could choose the elements I would say besides shooting he needs to keep on working on his solution and expanding that part of his game, for example keeping the dribble alive when going downhill or when creating for himself or for teammates’, warned Moris Hadzija. It is no secret that Jeremy Sochan touched so many hearts in his one season in Ulm as everyone will be watching from a far as he continues his rise up the basketball ladder. ‘I will never forget his hunger to get better and enormous will. For example he was waking up almost every day together with Igor Milicic at 5 in the morning so he can attend morning workouts with me before school. I think that says enough about the person he is’, said Moris Hadzija. Even if he coached Jeremy Sochan only for a season, Anton Gavel will always remember the youthfulness that the kid had in Germany which was very refreshing. Now he will be competing with the real men. ‘I remember in pre season seeing how he saw the game as a youth. He walked through the streets like a kid. He played like a kid with us that made mistakes’, remembered Anton Gavel. At the end of my discussion with Anton Gavel, I couldn’t help myself to ask him if he would become the new Ulm head coach. He politely laughed and said that that was for others to decide. He probably knew the decision, but couldn’t say yet. If I were to ask him if he knows if Jeremy Sochan will make the 2022-2023 San Antonio Spurs roster, he won’t know the answer and won’t be able to comment. After a summer of hard work in the lab, time will only tell if Jeremy Sochan will make his NBA dream a reality in October.

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