Jeremy Sochan spent his third consecutive Christmas away from his family last December. Instead of traveling home to Europe, the 19-year-old celebrated the holiday season with Baylor manager Matthew Mearse in Dallas. It was his first time getting the full American Christmas experience, matching PJs and all, having left the U.S. to move overseas as a little child. On this Christmas Eve, he pined for his loved ones—with whom he would normally celebrate various Polish traditions before diving into pierogies and opening presents.
But the thousands of miles separating the Sochans wouldn’t stop them from sharing some holiday joy together. ”You’re going to be with us at the table,” Jeremy’s stepfather, Wiktor Lipiecki, texted him, alongside a picture of the Baylor forward’s portrait placed over the dinner setting. Moments like this have helped Jeremy persevere in pursuit of his NBA dreams—which became a reality last month when the San Antonio Spurs selected the 6-foot-9 wing with the no. 9 pick in the 2022 NBA draft. Those moments sustained him throughout his journey of growth and self-discovery, making sense of his multifaceted identity as an American born in Guymon, Oklahoma, raised by his Polish mother in Britain; coming to terms with the death of his biological father; and fighting to nurture his talent amid the pandemic and his already limited opportunities to play competitive basketball—with the coronavirus continuing to disrupt his career even now, as he was ruled out of Las Vegas summer league games after testing positive for COVID-19.
They helped focus his eyes on the bigger picture. “Moments like that,” Jeremy says. “That’s when you find joy.” He wanted to share some of that emotion with others, so he tweeted a screenshot of Lipiecki’s message, leaving followers with some food for thought:
We all sacrifice something for the greater good.
Many Polish goods, are things that I will be missing on the 24th for the 3rd time in the row. More importantly I will be missing the physical presence of my family, I’ve had it far from perfect but nobody has so I’m just like you. We all sacrifice something for the greater good. pic.twitter.com/KmlRBIVmG7— Jeremy Sochan (@JeremySochan) December 24, 2021
Jeremy has lived a globetrotter’s life since before he can remember. He moved to Europe after his mom, Aneta Sochan, graduated from Panhandle State—where she played Division II basketball and met Jeremy’s father, Aggies forward Ryan Williams. Jeremy lived in France before settling down in Southampton, England—by the time he turned 3. But ask where his home is, and the Spurs rookie will point to Milton Keynes, a city northwest from London that was created in the ’60s to relieve housing shortages in the British capital.
Milton Keynes is known as the home of Formula 1 team Red Bull, however, racing is among the very few sports Jeremy didn’t try growing up (he has actually yet to get a driver’s license, one of his immediate goals after getting acclimated with the Spurs.) Jeremy played rugby, badminton, and soccer as a boy. He won the Milton Keynes championship in the long jump three times. He was an active and open-minded child—“kind of a social butterfly,” eager to try new things, says Aneta.
Jeremy’s family has been living and breathing sports for generations, further encouraging his athletic tip-toeing. Jeremy’s great-grandfather played soccer and his grandfather served as the president of the Warsaw Regional Basketball Association 40 years ago. But most importantly, he directly inherited genes from two hoopers. Aneta served as his de facto first basketball coach. Jeremy learned the importance of defense while training with his mom, a former point guard—who he couldn’t call “mom” on the court, otherwise he would have gotten an earful.
When the time came to decide his athletic path, Jeremy chose basketball—although not without qualms. “It was difficult because all my friends were playing soccer,” he says. Besides, he adds, “it’s pretty hard to excel in basketball in England,” where more people regularly engaged in garden trampolining than basketball. Between 2013 and 2017, Sport England gave basketball less than a sixth of the money that cricket or rugby received per participant. The local team in his age group practiced “maybe once a week,” he recalls. “But because I was lucky, I was pretty gifted, I could play for older group as well.”
Sochan’s drive and talent would later earn him extra hours on the court when he moved back to Southampton to play for Itchen College at 15. He would be promoted to the Solent Kestrels during the season, a semi-professional National Basketball League (NBL) affiliate. There, he shared the court with players a decade older, prompting other teams to complain he was too young to be on the team. He averaged 3.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists over 11.4 minutes per night—as the Kestrels outscored their opponents by more than 20 points on the season.
As a teenager, Sochan would watch the NBA early in the morning and close his eyes and imagine himself playing on basketball’s grandest of stages—looking up to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook during the Oklahoma City Thunder’s glory days.
“I’ll be there one day,” he would tell Aneta and Lipiecki.
Jeremy’s endearing smile mirrors his mom’s, from the energy to the characteristic gap between his front teeth. It’s a little over 48 hours before the 2022 NBA draft. As always, he’s trying to stay in the present. But as he sits in his room in a Manhattan hotel, not far away from Barclays Center where the draft will take place, he lets himself take a peek into the future—in which he sees a championship ring on his finger. “I don’t think it will take a crazy amount of time.”
He thinks he has a good idea of where he’s headed in two days. Jeremy felt the Cleveland Cavaliers—just like the Spurs—could make for a good environment for his growth following pre-draft workouts. But he doesn’t expect to slide down to no. 14, where the Cavs are picking. He knows the Spurs, sitting at nine, are keen on him, and that many people in San Antonio really like him.
The Spurs like his hustle, unselfishness, and coachability. But above all else, they value his versatility on both ends, general manager Brian Wright says. Jeremy finished his junior year at Baylor averaging 9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks. He played everything from point guard to center—a major factor contributing to his Big-12 All-Freshman and Sixth Man of the Year honors. Looking ahead, the Spurs can see Jeremy developing into a three-level scorer once his shot improves.
San Antonio could hardly find a player better suited to follow in the footsteps of the team’s storied international history—be it Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Patty Mills, or Boris Diaw, who embodied the organization’s cultural diversity over the years. Sochan’s mother, Aneta, was born in Warsaw and moved to the U.S. to play college basketball. His father was born in Oklahoma City. Williams was largely absent from his life growing up.
Around his 14th birthday, Jeremy learned his biological father died in a car accident. Jeremy says not having his dad in his life affected him deeply and caused trust issues. He was grateful to have had Lipiecki around while he was growing up, to help him deal with the mental toll his father’s absence took. “I was very lucky with the stepfather I had,” Jeremy says. “He really fit that role. He acted like I was his son.”
Still, the news of Williams’s death shook him. “I remember hearing it for the first time. I didn’t know how to react,” he says. Jeremy finally came to terms with the tragedy, redirecting his focus on things he could control—the good health of those he loves, above all. And basketball, which he’s used as a tool to “get away” and work on himself as a player and person—while hoping Williams “is looking down and happy” from a “good space.”
“You can’t get mad, you can’t keep on thinking about it. You just gotta accept it and keep on going.”
But Jeremy’s positive outlook on life never wavered. As he started thinking of his next career step while in England, the forward attracted interest from several European teams. But he had always wanted to experience high school and college basketball in America. Jeremy eventually chose to join Indiana’s La Lumiere, the previous year’s no. 3 program in the country, as a junior for the 2019-20 season. But as the pandemic was spiraling out of control in the country, he decided to move back to Europe for his senior year, playing for OrangeAcademy, Ratiopharm Ulm’s development team in Germany. By that time, he had already committed for 2021-22 to Baylor—which would lose Davion Mitchell and three other starters after winning the NCAA tournament, increasing the likelihood of Jeremy playing significant minutes.
Every time Sochan moved, he approached the changes with curiosity and an open mind. His multinationality made him appreciate different cultures, places, beliefs, and everything that came with them—it made him celebrate diversity rather than be taken aback by it, helping him form good and genuine relationships, Lipiecki says. And so Jeremy would think about meeting new friends and trying new cuisines rather than the mundanity of shipping his comfort items to him again.
In Germany, Jeremy had little to do outside of house chores with places around him shut down. Still, head coach Anton Gavel says he didn’t show signs of missing home. Quite the contrary, he would still find an outlet for his juvenile energy; his new teammates would label him as “one of the funniest guys.”
It didn’t take long for Jeremy to showcase his basketball potential. He averaged 20 points in the first two preseason games with the OrangeAcademy, making all of his shots in one of those games. It took him some time to learn the offense, but he knew where his spots were and when to take a shot. Even when he missed, he would use his athleticism to quickly get off the floor and follow up with second-chance points. On defense, Jeremy immediately put his skills on display. At 17 years old—and in only his second season outside of England—he already guarded positions 1 through 4. “For European standards, he was an extremely good defender,” Gavel says.
Jeremy’s defensive instincts go back to his soccer-playing days—when he usually played goalie, “one of the most important roles” in the game, he says. He enjoyed jumping to save shots between the posts, serving as his team’s last line of defense. “There’s something about stopping people,” Jeremy explains, “even in basketball.”
Jeremy’s competitiveness stood out from the beginning, Gavel says. He asked to take on the most difficult defensive assignments day in, day out. The bigger the stage, the more he owned it. Jeremy led all players in points and rebounds during the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Valencia, and made the All-Tournament team. He became the youngest-ever player to debut for the senior Poland national team at just 17.
.@SochanJeremy with 16 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks for Ulm in a tough loss vs Barcelona in his @EuroLeague ANGT opener! #BritishBasketball— Hoopsfix (@Hoopsfix) December 27, 2020
: @IChytrzynski pic.twitter.com/isUYdNQpMu
At Baylor, Jeremy’s college basketball experience exceeded his lofty childhood expectations. He marveled at the iconic gyms he visited—or the fact he traveled to the Bahamas to play. He felt exhilarated seeing the crowd’s wild reaction to Patrick Mahomes’s appearance at the away matchup with Texas Tech. “That was the loudest game I’ve ever been to,” Jeremy says. “You couldn’t even hear yourself talking.”
The intensity of playing in America suited him; it matched his fondness for trash-talk. Jeremy loves to try and get in someone’s head, be it on the court or in a game of Catan. “Once you unlock that mental ability, you’re going to find out that there’s so much more you can do physically,” he says. “Just be present. And, you know, time is precious. It’s not guaranteed. So just do something every day to get better.”
He applied that wisdom when he found Matthew Mayer’s tooth stuck in his elbow during Baylor’s win over Oklahoma. And in the season-ending loss to North Carolina, he put on one of his best performances despite many rough plays—catching Brady Manek’s elbow to his face, and receiving a technical himself.
That mental strength also has a whimsical side to it. When Baylor got stuck on the runway ahead of an away game against Kansas State, Jeremy let his teammates shave his head—a big deal, since Sochan is known for his artistic hairdos—to win a $200 bet, but also because he knew the bold stunt would bring the team together. “Not many people know that—people just see how he changes his hair a lot,” Lipiecki says. “For some reason, one of my teammates had clippers on the plane,” Jeremy recalls. “So we plugged them in and started doing it on the plane.”
A change of planes interrupted the procedure, leaving Jeremy with a half-shaved head until the Bears arrived at their hotel. There, the team hurried to his room to finish the hairdo. “I feel like we all had so much joy in that,” he says. To Lipiecki, the story serves as testament to Jeremy’s confidence and self-awareness, and shows how his teammates can benefit from them. “We don’t talk about what players have to go through and the relationship they have to create,” adds Aneta, who works as a mental health practitioner. Seeing Jeremy step up and take the lead has been one of the most joyous aspects of following her son’s career. “No matter where he goes, he just shows up.”
The Dejounte Murray trade rumors before the draft signaled the Spurs’ readiness to start over, making the team target players with high ceilings during the 2022 NBA draft.
Gavel thinks San Antonio will have to “invest a little time” in Jeremy before he can take off in the NBA—working on his shooting consistency and developing the ability to beat defenders off the dribble. But he can see the Spurs forward contributing in other ways: crashing the offensive glass and block shots in addition to growing his trademark defense—all particularly valuable traits for a team that has ranked in the bottom half of the pack defensively in the past four years. Jeremy says he wants to emulate Mikal Bridges’s and Bam Adebayo’s emergence as hybrid forwards who can do a little bit of everything on both sides of the floor. Gavel suggests he could perhaps jot down a few notes on how the Dallas Mavericks utilize Maxi Kleber as a stretch 4—with whom the OrangeAcademy head coach played for Bayern Munich five years ago.
But while the Spurs can wait for their new players to adapt to NBA standards, they didn’t want to “gamble on the character” of their rookies, Wright says. In that regard, he thinks Jeremy is a great match for the franchise’s environment and culture. “How he thinks about basketball but [also] life outside of basketball really lined up with what we hope to be,” he says.
San Antonio will once again have one of the youngest rosters in the NBA this year—and the Spurs’ reported interest in parting ways with their most experienced players suggest they want the new leader to come from within. Jeremy has proved he feels comfortable in that role—he’s already done it for two countries, in his teenage years, no less.
Even though Jeremy grew up in England, representing Poland has always felt natural to him. In 2019, he led the under-16 team to European Championships, winning it all and scooping the MVP award. He had to learn the lyrics of the national anthem ahead of his memorable senior debut against Romania, but he got on well with his new teammates, making sure he would quickly build rapport with them by bringing his Xbox to practice camp to play 2K together.
Jeremy feels responsible for basketball’s growth in both countries closest to his heart. He openly speaks up about the failings of British basketball that cause plenty of talent to go down the drain and advocates for a change. Meanwhile in Poland, where the structures are more developed—a significant factor in his decision to switch national team allegiance after representing youth England teams—he does his best to inspire young players to dream big. Jeremy knows a portrait of him might soon land on an aspiring player’s wall somewhere in the country—perhaps similar to the one his family placed at the Christmas table last year.
And so he uses his status as the national team’s star to encourage them to follow his path. “Basketball is the same, whether you play in the NBA or college, or school—in Poland or in the EuroLeague. You’ve got to play good defense and have fun together,” he told young players from the Mazovia team ahead of the youth national championship game in March. In the lead-up to the big final, president of the Warsaw Regional Basketball Association Robert Szywalski asked Aneta if Jeremy could share some wisdom with the boys. “I had a video from him 20 minutes later,” Szywalski says.
No Pole had ever been selected in the first round of the NBA draft before him. The idea of landing on NBA courts remains largely beyond comprehension in the minds of young players in the country—Jeremy experienced that himself when he once told his youth teammates about his NBA dreams, prompting some of them to chuckle. The forward hopes his story will change that mindset. “At times people limit themselves to a degree that they shouldn’t,” Jeremy says.
And he’s ready to take that attitude with him to the Spurs. Two days before the draft, when asked who his next team is getting, Jeremy says it’s a player and a man with a lot of energy, who can go through obstacles and ups and downs, stay level-headed, and work hard in finding the right balance.
“And he’s gonna be a winner,” he adds. “He’s gonna help everyone around the team, the organization, get better as well.”
People say all roads lead to Rome. In Jeremy’s case, they led to San Antonio. The many detours he took in his career made him the player and the man he is today—one who the Spurs think will fit with their culture well. Each of the stops he took helped him find his identity, a process that admittedly made him feel lost at times. But Jeremy says he’s now more than comfortable with who he is: a citizen of the world. “I think it’s something I’m proud of,” he says.
He might still get tired of hearing that one question—Where are you from?—over and over again. But he will still answer it, although those looking to label him in a simple, definite way might be disappointed by the response. “Like he said, ‘I’m a mix, but I’m Jeremy.’ And that’s the beauty of it,” Aneta says.