OVIE SOKO: LIFE AFTER LOVE ISLAND “TERRIFIC”

The past 12 months have been an astonishing whirlwind for Ovie Soko.

From Love Island to an ocean of opportunity, the Great Britain and London Lions forward has seen his horizons explode enticingly beyond the basketball floor.

A high-flyer, in every sense. But with his feet firmly planted, still on the ground.

How to sum up a rollercoaster that has seen him become a trusted face of brands like Diet Coke and Asos with lucrative endorsement deals in the bag.

Not to mention his role as a pundit on Sky Sports, a forthcoming inspirational book entitled You Are Dope, his cameo as a contestant on Celebrity Bake Off, plus red carpet invites by the dozen?

“Plenty of ups,” he reveals in the latest edition of The MVP Cast.

“A couple of downs in there. But the whole journey, it’s been terrific. It is a really privileged position to be in. I do understand that.

“But it’s been fun. It’s been fun. It’s been a learning process. And I’m continuing to learn a little bit more about life outside of basketball – the business world.”

Fresh off three seasons in the Spanish ACB when he entered the doors of the ITV2 hit in June 2019 and then exited, weeks later, as the nation’s darling, it has become almost too easy for many to overlook that the Londoner is one of the best hoopsters the UK has produced in recent times.

“It’s hilarious,” he grins.

Working his way up

Yet his journey to that summit confounded the odds, he concedes. Overlooked repeatedly in his teens, forced to start on the middle rung when he returned from college at Duquesne, Soko has elevated his stature through his own endeavours rather than receiving a golden star on a platter.

Hence, you wonder, did he feel conflicted about ceding a deal already signed to maintain that upward trajectory (an unnamed French team had him pinned down for the 2019-20 season) in order to capitalise on the unprecedented number of doors which opened up from his Love Island tour?

“The trickiest part was when I first came off the show,” he affirms. “Because obviously, a million things are hitting me at once.

“But ultimately, I appreciate the fact that my path is very different. And it’s very unique to anyone else’s. And there’s things that will make sense in my path that might not make sense to anyone else.

“So, you know, everything I’ve done has made perfect sense to me. And I don’t think I’ve particularly closed any doors. And, yeah man, it’s just worked out well for me.”

The Lions offered him flexibility and a chance to continue to play while getting royally rewarded on his own doorstep, a marrying of interests that also offered the BBL a stellar name to put in lights and on billboards.

His first campaign on home soil was, by any barometer, a success, even if the intended pursuit of Glasgow to defend the league title was wiped out by coronavirus.

Still, undeniably, it was a step down from turning out for Murcia against the leviathans of Spain and goliaths of Europe.

“It just takes a lot of getting used to,” Soko acknowledges. Mentally, above all.

“Because now it’s not like you necessarily have (Real) Madrid or Barcelona to chase. When I was playing in Spain or even in Greece, you have these teams that you can use as a gauge.

“These are the best teams in Europe and definitely the best teams outside of the NBA that you’re competing with. So you can use them as a legitimate gauge to see ‘okay, where am I at?’

“But now, you know, when I was playing in UK, you’re not playing against necessarily the best teams in Europe. So it has to come from yourself.

“You have to be motivated by yourself. You have to push yourself because no one else will really push you.”

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Future plans

He remains open to remaining in the capital beyond this summer. No deal yet done, no talks held, he affirms, no real pressing need to rush those conversations until the picture of the sporting future clears up.

Until then, Ovie Soko – The Brand will co-exist merrily with Ovie Soko – The Man, with the latter altered admirably little from the modest engaging character he was before the paparazzi learnt his name.

But he can justly gloat a little on one score.

For sure, he was one step ahead of the Great British Public by getting his baking skills up to scratch and appraised by Paul and Prue before lockdown propelled the country into a bread and cake-making frenzy.

“I’m still working on my baking skills,” he grins. “I’m all right at cooking because you can discover flavour and go off feel.

“Baking? Whole different animal! It’s very precise. It’s all about precision. You have to leave it to set for a specific amount of time…”

Another extension of Ovie Inc. in the works? Don’t hold your breath, he adds. “I still have a ways to go before I make any Ovie-branded cakes!”

The MVP Cast is sponsored by Total Environmental Compliance – check them out at tecompliance.co.uk.

Watch the full interview with Ovie Soko above or download it to listen at your leisure – more details via our podcast page.


Photo: FIBA

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