Soko's journey to Duquesne ends with one year to leave a mark on 'The Bluff'

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Ovie Soko's wait is almost over.

Soko, one of only three returning scholarship players for the Duquesne men's basketball team, is eager to get started after he sat out the 2012-13 season following a transfer from Alabama-Birmingham.

The 6-foot-8 senior forward's journey to this lone season in a Dukes uniform doesn't follow a traditional arc. Soko, a London native, left his family behind five years ago and moved to Hampton Roads, Va., to chase a dream.

"Basketball," he said. "Basketball is the reason I'm in America."

He made 59 starts in 88 games for coach Mike Davis in three seasons at UAB, averaging 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as a junior. But when Davis was fired in March 2012, Soko, with one year of eligibility remaining, opted for "a change of scenery."

Soko heard that Jim Ferry, who had steered LIU-Brooklyn to consecutive Northeast Conference titles, was hired at Duquesne. A month later, his transfer was official.

"I just felt like coach Ferry's system was the best for me," Soko said. "It's really exciting basketball to watch. You watch his teams play and think, man, it would be fun to play in a system like that."

Now, after a year of suiting up only for practices, Soko is finally getting that chance.

"I can't wait," he said with a grin.

There's a certain sophisticated flavor to Soko, a student of the game dressed in a No. 0 jersey, an earnest smile and a thick British accent.

Though it felt like the longest year of his life, Soko said being sidelined only strengthened his game -- as he redoubled his dedication to the film room and the practice court -- and his ability to lead a Dukes team that has eight new players this fall.

"We have no bad rapport in the locker room," Soko said. "We just really have fun competing."

Duquesne opens the 2013-14 season with an exhibition against Clarion at 1 p.m. Saturday at Palumbo Center. It'll be an opportunity for Dukes fans to finally get a glimpse of Soko, and a chance for him to shake off some rust.

"I keep telling Ovie that it's not going to happen right away," Ferry said. "It's a hard thing to do to sit out a year. It's going to take a little while. He's so anxious to get going again, and the game's going to be a little faster for him at first."

Once he finds his feet, Soko is expected to be the central cog of Ferry's offense, one that revolves around strong forward play. Soko brings versatility, too, and a particular skill set Ferry has tried to maximize.

"He's such a good player," Ferry said. "He has the ability to drive it, shoot it, pass it, score inside-out, get rebounds. He's just a versatile basketball player who can make a big impact."

And Ferry, in Soko's words, has allowed the seasoned forward to "expand" his game.

"Just the way he allows his forwards to play very versatile," Soko said. "He doesn't really box anyone into a specific [role]. He doesn't make anyone play like a robot, basically. He gives you freedom to play as long as the best decisions are being made."

Stephen J. Nesbitt:, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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