It's on to the professional ranks for Duquesne's Ovie Soko. Had a chance to chat with Soko this week to discuss this season, his future and a lot more. He signed recently with Sean Kennedy of Excel Sports Management and will soon begin training in New York City.
Here's the full transcript:
So, what's next for Ovie Soko?
"Well, I just signed an agent and am starting the working-out process to make sure I'm prepared. Some NBA workouts will come up, I'm sure, and 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."
Did you ever file anything to the draft advisory board?
"I haven't done any paperwork specifically as far as that is concerned, but right now it's still pretty early. After the workouts and all the combines, a lot of stuff will change for a lot of players."
I'm sure you would be one guy not opposed to playing over in Europe, but do you have a certain goal you're trying to hit in this process?
"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. If you really start to put stuff into perspective, not a lot of people get to play a sport for a living. Whatever happens, I'm just going to make sure I enjoy it and give it my all."
Has the NBA always been the goal?
"That's always been the goal. That's really one of the only reasons why I came over to America, to be honest, was to chase the whole NBA dream. There were opportunities for me to play in Europe, but I thought I'd rather come and give America a try and push myself as far as I could go. Wherever it takes me, it takes me. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to even come out here. It's been fun. It's been a real growing experience."
Can you give a brief timeline for how you did end up over here in the States?
"When I was 14 or 15, that summer, I went to a camp in Spain to one of the ACB clubs out there. After the camp, it had become an option for me to go back to Spain and go to school and try to start my career out there. Over the summer, I also came to a camp in Oregon in the States, and my coach out there knew somebody in Virginia, and I wound up in school in Virginia that fall. It all happened so quickly. I really hadn't planned to be in America at the beginning of that summer. After I got into high school, everything just happened so quickly. From there I got involved in the [AAU] circuit, and I ended up down at UAB. Things didn't work out down there, my coach [Mike Davis] got released. I just thought that was a perfect time to have a fresh start, and I ended up at Duquesne. It's been an interesting ride. [laugh] It's been an interesting ride."
The thing you didn't mention was ... how did you family react to all this?
"Well, my mum didn't really want to let me go. It was tougher for her to let her youngest go. I thank my parents so much for trusting me to be in another country by myself from such a young age. I'm really grateful for them. After a while, they got used to it and we just made it work. They knew it was what I wanted to do, and I knew it was what I wanted to do."
Do you have older siblings?
"Yeah, I've got an older brother, a big brother [Raymond]. I look up to him. I ask a lot of advice from him. I really lean on him for support at times when it gets tough. He's back in England working now. He really tells me the same things. Don't lose yourself in the business and forget to live. 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."
What was different about life in the US?
"The US is just a big place, you know. It's a real big place. There's not many other countries you could come from that compare to the US as far as size goes. I was excited to come to the US, to be honest. America is pretty much a destination country. There are so many other countries around the world where you dream to have the opportunities that people have in the US. I was able to really appreciate it. Even England is in a very good situation, too. 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. I was excited to come to America. There's not much to complain about over here, to be honest with you."
[laughs] Yeah, really, you've got plenty of time to play Call of Duty over here.
So your parents actually lived in Africa? You're a first-generation Brit, then?
"Yeah, yeah. My mum and dad both grew up in Nigeria, West Africa. I had that background sort of instilled in me just from a discipline standpoint. I just see things a lot different. My granddad on my mum's side is still in Nigeria. My grandmother on my mum's side, she makes trips back to Nigeria frequently. My mum goes back quite a lot, so we've still got a lot of family over there. Last time I was in Nigeria was when I was 5 or 6, so I vaguely remember bits and pieces. I've always wanted to have a chance to go back once everything has calmed down a bit."
What do your parents do in England?
"They're into real estate. My mum is also a housing manager and my dad does a lot of carpentry work also."
If you were talking to somebody now like a 15-year-old Ovie Soko back in the UK, would you advise him to take the route you took?
"I would just say, 'Go for it.' 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. You can't just see what you see with your eyes. Whatever you see right in front of you isn't going to be where you're going to end up. If you can continue to believe with your heart and your mind, you'll be fine."
What other options did you have other than coming to the US?
"I would have had to get out of England. The England basketball scene isn't one of the best around, and I think it was just good for me to get away from where I was anyway just to be able to focus and go after what I wanted to do."
Was it tough to be away from family and the folks you grew up with?
"Yeah man. Grew up in Tottenham, in London, then eventually moved to Barnet. It was tough. Parents are really hard-working people, very hard-working, so growing up seeing how they worked, I felt like with the opportunity I've been given, I'd like to give them a lot more. They deserve a lot more than we have. With the opportunity I've been given, I can go for it and given them what I deserve. [My childhood] it wasn't easy. I wasn't one of those kids who could just go to my parents and ask for whatever I wanted. It was more about what they could give me, and they gave me everything I needed. I've always been grateful for everything they've done."
And now you have a chance to give back ...
"Yeah man. Anytime you can do that, you just have to be happy."
Turning toward Duquesne, what was the coaching staff able to do with you to help improve your own game?
"Coach Ferry, he just broke down to me my strengths and my weaknesses. In the year off he really pushed me to improve on my weaknesses and make it so that they weren't weaknesses anymore. I feel like they just allowed me to grow. It was a year where I was able to gain back confidence that I had lost being in the last program. Over the year I could just sit out and reflect a lot and grow as a person. It did a lot for me. A lot more off the court than I feel like people would realize, obviously, since what most people see is the basketball production. I definitely grew as a person in the year off. Went through a lot."
Now a little way out from the season, have you been able to gain some perspective on your one and only season in uniform here?
"I'm one of those people that is never really satisfied. We could have won however many more games and there's always something I'd feel we could improve on. But I'm proud of the young guys on the season, for sure. Going through some of the tough stretches that we went through, they bounced back, and I feel like that speaks volumes for the type of people they are. That's why I'm not worried about the direction the program is going in. I have no doubt they're going to do a lot better next year than we did this year because there are a lot of younger guys that can do a lot more than they showed this year. Everyone is going to work at their weaknesses and improve. We have the right group of guys to get it done.
Beyond youth, what one or two pieces might Duquesne need to really launch them forward?
"A little bit more size at some of the wing positions, but besides that I feel like to have this year for all of the guys to get acclimated to the system was just what they needed. All of the experience the younger guys gained this year is going to allow them to make a bigger jump than a lot of freshmen would in most programs where they don't play as much as Coach Ferry plays freshmen. He plays whoever is producing. That's going to be huge for them next year. Jeremiah [Jones] and DC [Derrick Colter] are going into their third year, so it's not going to be a lot of getting-used-to this year. They already have the core there, now it's just about building on what we did last year."
What's a moment you'll take away with you from this past season?
"Probably the Saint Louis win. It was a big win. It was the biggest win I've had in my career. To be honest, just the whole experience. There were ups and downs, but I enjoyed everything. I enjoyed all of it. I'm not going to leave this year regretting anything. That's what I like the most about having gone through this year is that I have no regrets. That's what I'm satisfied with, and that's what I really take away from it, just being able to be around a good team my senior year."
Stephen J. Nesbitt:
, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.