Love Island’s Ovie Soko hopes to use his profile to boost British basketball

Love Island star Ovie Soko says he is considering playing at home in the British Basketball League this season.

Soko, 28, forged a career in Europe with clubs in Italy, France, Greece and Spain before becoming a hit on this summer’s reality dating series.

The move is in response to media opportunities Soko has had since his third-place finish in TV show.

“The ideal situation would be for me to play back at home this year,” he told BBC Sport. “Negotiations are going on.”

The 6ft 7in Soko was around the Great Britain squad for their recent EuroBasket pre-qualifiers against Luxembourg and Kosovo but did not add to his eight caps because he had only limited opportunity to retain his playing edge while on Love Island.

He has no intention of turning his back on the game that he has made a career.

“First things first – get back to basketball – preferably,” said Soko when asked of his plans before GB’s win against Kosovo assured them a place in February’s qualifiers.

For someone who earned an estimated £100,000 at Spanish club Murcia last season, at a time when he was making his scoring presence felt on the GB team, that would seem an obvious step.

Yet with so many media and commercial opportunities coming his way since he left the villa – he can earn up to £7,000 for a personal appearance based on his stint on Love Island – he is considering delaying his return to Europe at least for the early part of the coming season.

‘I do like television – it’s fun for me’

Soko, born in the London commuter belt suburb of Worcester Park, has been a guest chef on ITV’s This Morning and also put in an appearance on Soccer AM.

There is even talk of 1990s game show Supermarket Sweep coming back, with a special Love Island edition pitting contestants against each other, and with opportunities like that Soko is weighing up spending time – if not necessarily a full campaign – playing at home.

“I feel like Love Island is a unique experience and for me personally I would leave it at that,” he said. “But I also like the entertainment side of things – I do like television – it’s fun for me.”

Mobbed by fans at the Kosovo game, he and partner India Reynolds coped with the adoration and the endless demands for selfies, autographs and photos seemingly without a beat and were still chatting to Love Island devotees in the car park afterwards.

How much he would earn from playing in the BBL, a relative backwater in European terms and with a total team salary cap for 12 players of £200,000, is unclear, but his name on the matchday programme might help get people through the door at games.

The beneficial effect that could have on the national league would help and could help attract sorely-needed funding to the national team programme, at a time when the GB teams are producing good results – the senior women’s run to the semi-finals of this summer’s EuroBasket being the prime example.

GB men’s EuroBasket qualifers

  • 21 Feb 2020: v Montenegro (A)
  • 24 Feb 2020: v Germany (H)
  • 26 Nov 2020: v France (H)
  • 29 Nov 2020: v Montenegro (H)
  • 19 Feb 2021: v Germany (A)
  • 22 Feb 2021: v France (A)

“I feel like at this point there’s a chance for me to do something that’s much bigger than myself, which at the end of the day I feel is what we should all strive for,” said Soko, who has seen team-mates drift in and out of the GB squad in the last few years through lack of motivation.

Soko says he has no regrets about enrolling as a contestant on Love Island, a move his brother persuaded him to make after one of Soko’s former classmates had taken part in a previous series.

“I don’t think any of the people who went on the show – I should say any of us – have been in an environment like that,” he said. “It’s such a unique experience that it’s difficult to describe to people who haven’t been in an environment like that.

“I don’t regret anything – it’s all lessons isn’t it? It’s like when a kid falls down a lot before it learns to walk. It’s necessary and it’s how we learn best.”

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