In his first column for Sky Sports NBA, Ovie Soko talks about his love of basketball and playing in the US and Europe, and offers his 2019-20 season predictions.
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I’ve been playing professional basketball for the last six years but I’ve loved the game since I was young. I originally played for the Barnet Bulldogs in London. When I was with them, I went over to a camp in the States and got my opportunity. A coach at the camp knew a high school coach, connections happened, and before I knew it, by the end of that summer I was in the US playing high school ball.
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After two years there, I had five years of college basketball – three years at the University of Alabama (UAB), then transferred up to Duquesne in Pittsburgh. Under NCAA rules, as a transfer I had to red-shirt (sit out) my first year but the last year there was absolutely awesome.
My goal was always to go pro after college. I worked out for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors. Just being in those facilities… running into Giannis Antetokounmpo at the Bucks facility when he was new to the league!
Ovie in action for UCAM Murcia in Spain
Opportunities opened up in Europe for me to play, and it made more sense for me. I was able to be closer to home. I’ve played in France and Greece, done a short stint in Italy, and been in Spain for the past few seasons.
Spain was the best. Their league is second only to the NBA. The quality of players there… you’ve got NBA players bouncing in and out of the Spanish league all the time. I played against Luka Doncic, he is the real deal. The scary part about him is how advanced he is mentally. He separates himself from players of the same age through his maturity and his IQ.
Ovie’s season predictions
Using NBA UK’s prediction tool, we asked Ovie to make his picks for NBA title-winners, MVP, Rookie of the Year and most-improved team.
Make your own predictions here and share your picks across social media using the hashtag #mynbapredictions.
Ovie Soko's 2019-20 NBA predictions
Who will win the 2019-20 NBA championship?
The NBA title is going to LA, but I’m not 100 per cent on which team. Once Paul George gets back from injury, the Clippers will be a very scary side. With the Lakers, it seems like LeBron’s got his version of the ‘Monstars’ [from Space Jam] over there.
This is the first time in a while, or maybe ever, that people are counting LeBron out, in a certain sense. The player ranking thing… (ESPN ranked James behind Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo on their recent Top 100 players list). I think he will be out to show people he is still at the top of his game.
LeBron James dribbles upcourt against Golden State
LeBron and Anthony Davis together just works for me. Davis is someone who doesn’t necessarily need to have the ball in his hands for entire possessions in order to be effective. He gets to his spots and makes very quick decisions. It’s very difficult to find a superstar who isn’t ball-dominant in this era of the NBA. Davis fits into that elite tier without needing the ball all the time.
I’m going with the Lakers to win the title. It’s LeBron, and you’ve got to respect his body of work.
Who will be the 2019-20 MVP?
The MVP race is wide open this year. I can see Giannis winning it again. It will be hard for him to make as big a leap as he made last year. He’s still a young guy and he is still learning.
Experience the scoring punch, emphatic dunks and athletic defense that earned Giannis Antetokounmpo his first MVP award
Giannis is scary. He is starting to own the idea of being the best player in the world. I can see him finding greater consistency in his mid-range game and showing higher in-game IQ, making better decisions. He has now seen, at that playoff level, that he can’t just bully his way through defenses. He knows he is not a great shooter.
Now it is about him breaking down how he can be effective efficiently at the highest level. I know he will do a great job.
Who will win Rookie of the Year?
Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies attacks the basket against Maccabi Haifa
I’m a big Ja Morant fan. I started following him early this year (when he was playing college ball at Murray State). I think he has that Damian Lillard-level ability in terms of the impact he will make when he comes into the league.
He has a very high basketball IQ, higher than people realise at the moment. He was making NBA plays when he was playing with his college team-mates.
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Being a mid-major guy, he will come into the league with that chip on his shoulder. He didn’t go to a big-name college like Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky. At the college level, he had to produce first before the TV cameras came to show his games.
The kid is unreal. He is special.
Who will be the league’s most-improved team?
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George unveiled by the Los Angeles Clippers
This is a tough one. I would say the Clippers – they can potentially jump from a first-round playoff team to one that could go all the way to the title.
I don’t want to give a most-improved award to a team that was last in the league that jumps to the middle of the standings. What are you really rewarding there?
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To me, a most-improved team reaches a goal when they make that leap. It’s not enough just to say, ‘we won this number of games’ – that can be a faulty depiction because there is a point in the season where a number of teams start bombing, looking to position themselves better for upcoming draft lottery.
So I’m picking the Clips.
Ovie Soko has joined Sky Sports as part of the broadcaster’s best-ever NBA offering, which will include 134 live games and a record 48 games in weekend primetime slots. You can read his thoughts on the NBA season every week across Sky Sports NBA’s online platforms.
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