Soko making most of senior season at Duquesne
By John Harris
Published: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 10:20 p.m.
Growing up in London, Ovie Soko preferred soccer, but a growth spurt dictated that basketball was his ticket to ride.
“Soccer was my first love,” said the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Soko. “I wish I could have continued playing.”
Soko's basketball pursuit led him to the United States and an impressive high school career in Virginia. He played collegiately for three years at Alabama-Birmingham under Bob Knight disciple Mike Davis. When UAB fired Davis, Soko transferred to Duquesne, where he is leads the team in scoring (18.4 points per game) and rebounding (8.0) while approaching the school record for free-throw attempts in a season set by All-American Sihugo Green in 1955-56.
He could have attended Marquette, USC or any number of schools with a higher basketball profile rather than a rebuilding Duquesne program under second-year coach Jim Ferry. But while others may have seen a question mark at Duquesne, Soko envisioned opportunity.
“You can obviously go to another school of that size, and you can just be another guy,” said Soko, the only player in the Atlantic 10 who ranks among the top 10 in scoring and rebounding. “Or you can come to a school like Duquesne and make a difference.”
An athletic forward with a deft shooting touch, Soko became the first Duquesne player to produce five consecutive 20-point games since West Mifflin's Bryant McAllister during the 2005-06 season.
“Ovie's got great versatility for a forward,” Ferry said. “His future as a pro is all dictated on his shooting ability. When Ovie's playing well, we're playing well.”
Entering Saturday's game at Rhode Island, Soko had scored at least 20 points in nine of Duquesne's first 23 games. He finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds in the 83-71 victory over the Rams.
“Ovie's always been a shooter,” said Ed Huckaby, who was Soko's legal guardian and his assistant basketball coach at Bethel High in Hampton, Va. “At UAB, because they had other good players, he wasn't asked to do as much as he is now. He's always been able to handle the ball and play on the perimeter. They helped cultivate it at Duquesne.”
Soko's inside game is an acquired taste. He gets to the free-throw line frequently with his quick first step or by positioning his powerful torso close to the basket and signaling for the ball. The strategy has resulted in him attempting more than 10 free throws per game.
“It's been tougher now in conference play with all the scouting reports. Everyone keys on you more,” Soko said. “If I can get to my right hand, I don't feel there's many people who can stay in front of me without fouling. I don't mind contact. That's where I've had the most success: slashing and getting in the lane.”
As for avoiding a losing record, Soko said the positives at Duquesne outweigh the negatives. With five games remaining in the regular season, he's optimistic.
Soko graduated in December with a degree in communications, and he's working toward a graduate degree in sports leadership.
His parents and older brother recently surprised him with a visit from England for his 23rd birthday. The following day, with his family watching him play in a college game for the first time, Soko delivered 21 points and eight rebounds against George Mason.
“I've always been glad I picked Duquesne,” Soko said. “I'm a firm believer you go through everything for a reason. There's no such thing as a bad decision because lessons are learned from every situation in life. As long as you learn from it, everything's a good decision.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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