Duquesne's Ovie Soko has sights set on future as a pro

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Ovie Soko made good use of his first, last and only season at Duquesne. He led the Atlantic 10 Conference with 18.4 points per game and earned third team all-conference honors.

And now Soko, 23, departs the Bluff for the Big Apple. He signed with Excel Sports Management recently and will begin training shortly in New York City.

The London native is a long shot to be drafted, but has drawn plenty of interest from NBA teams and expects to attend a number of pre-draft workouts.

"We'll really get a gauge from the workouts as to what my exact move will be next year, whether that will be here or over in Europe somewhere," Soko said Thursday.

"My goal is to be in the NBA, definitely. I just know that to be able to play basketball professionally is a blessing in itself."

It was that NBA dream, after all, that brought Soko across the pond to the United States in 2007. That summer, Soko recalled, he attended two basketball camps, one in Spain and another in Oregon. He impressed enough at each camp that he was invited to remain there to train and cultivate his game.

At the end of the whirlwind summer, Soko, then 16, wound up at Hampton Roads Academy in Virginia, nearly 4,000 miles from his family's home in the London borough of Barnet.

"It all happened so quickly," Soko said. "At the beginning of that summer I really hadn't planned to be in America."

Back home, his parents, Foluso and Raymond Soko Sr., were wary about letting their youngest son move, but they understood his passion. Long ago, they, too, chased a dream. They emigrated from Nigeria in their early 20s and eventually found their niche in real estate, raising their sons Ovie and Raymond Jr., in Tottenham and then Barnet.

His parents always made ends meet, Ovie Soko said, but "they deserve a lot more than we have." Moving to the U.S. to play basketball, he hoped, would be the first step toward giving them a better life.

"Just being brought up with the background of my parents coming from Africa, I know a lot about the other side, you know, where the grass isn't so green, where everything isn't so easy and laid out," Soko said. "I was excited to come to America. There's not much to complain about over here, to be honest with you."

After two years in Hampton Roads, where he earned a McDonald's All-American nomination as a senior at Bethel High School, Soko enrolled at UAB.

He started as a sophomore and junior, but when UAB coach Mike Davis was released in March 2012, Soko decided it "was a perfect time to have a fresh start." With one year of eligibility remaining, he committed to Duquesne and coach Jim Ferry.

Soko sat out the 2012-13 season because of transfer restrictions, then carried the Dukes to a 13-17 record in his senior season, which he capped with a 23-point, 13-rebound performance in a loss against Richmond in the first round of the A-10 tournament.

"It's been an interesting ride," Soko said with a laugh.

Looking back, would he advise an ambitious, young British basketball player to follow that same path?

"I would just say, 'Go for it,' " Soko said. "At the end of the day, everyone else is going to say what they have to say, but if you have a goal or dream or desire, you've got to lead with your heart and your mind. You have to see it."

Now, as each step brings him closer to a potential pro career, he relies on a reminder from his brother, Raymond.

"Don't lose yourself in the business and forget to live," Soko recited. "You work so hard to do all these things that you end up forgetting why you do it. You do it for the people you care about. You do it to enjoy life."

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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