As a long, athletic defensive standout, UNLV's Khem Birch touts many of the same qualities Joakim Noah possessed when the Bulls center was preparing for the NBA Draft in 2007.
And as Birch, a 6-foot-9 power forward, goes through the NBA Draft process, he's hoping to convince teams he can make a similar impact to the one Noah has had in Chicago.
"I told (NBA teams in interviews) I can be a Joakim Noah-type player: bring energy, bring defense and help be a leader on defense," Birch said at last month's NBA Combine. "He brings a lot of energy. He’s always playing hard, regardless of the situation. Whether they’re down 20 he’ll play hard, if they’re up 20 he’ll play hard. A guy like that will help you win a lot of games."
No one expects Birch to follow the exact path Noah has taken in the NBA: two All-Star appearances, a $60 million contract extension, a Defensive Player of the Year award and a first-team All-NBA selection. Birch won't be selected in this year's lottery like Noah was seven years ago — Birch is an expected second-round pick — but he certainly has the skill set to make a potential impact at the next level.
A top-10 recruit and McDonald's All-American in the 2011 class, Birch transferred from Pittsburgh on some ugly terms after just one year. But the Montreal native opted for UNLV and found a home, averaging 9.6 points on 53 percent shooting, 8.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in two seasons with the Rebels. He was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year both seasons, was second in the nation in blocks per game (3.8) and tallied 17 double-doubles as a junior. Though his offensive game is still a bit raw and one-dimensional and he's already 22 years old, he could stick if a team finds his defensive prowess worth a roster spot.
Along with Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Ennis and Nik Stauskas, Birch is also one of the handful of Canadians expected to be selected in this year's draft. He played for the U18 Canadian junior team in 2010 with fellow collegiate standouts Myck Kabongo (Texas) and Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky/Gonzaga), and as a sophomore he was teammates with fellow Canadian and 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett. He's also spoken with Canadian Joel Anthony, who played at UNLV, about the process and said the other draft hopefuls from north of the border have embraced each other as they chase the same goal of playing in the NBA.
"It’s special. It’s amazing. It’s funny how we all came out," Birch said. "I played with some of these guys when I was 12 years old and now we’re all here at the NBA Combine. It’s amazing. We’re always cracking jokes on each other or other people. We’re all like a family. We have no envy on each other. We’re like brothers."