Columbia guard Maodo Lo took the court at Philadelphia College for Osteopathic Medicine on Friday with five players from highly touted basketball programs (see workout notebook). Five players from programs that have appeared in an NCAA Tournament a lot more recently than Lo’s alma mater.
Yet Lo appeared to fit right in.
Lo, who played his college ball at Columbia, was one of six players in the Sixers' pre-draft workout Friday morning, showing off his point guard abilities just days after graduating from college. Playing in the Ivy League, Lo was a catalyst in the Lions' offense for the last four years, averaging over 14 point per game each of the last three years.
His best offensive season came during his junior year after the team's previous leading scorer, Alex Rosenberg, went down with a preseason injury and Lo was asked to carry the load. The 6-foot-3 guard roared through Ivy competition, scoring 18.4 points per game while making over 43 percent of his threes that season.
For most college players, particularly in the Ivy League, what follows junior year is a period of rest and recovery before one final season. But not so for Lo.
A native of Berlin, Germany, he played for the German national team in EuroBasket 2015 alongside NBA veterans like Dirk Nowitzki and Dennis Schroder. Lo's role grew as the tournament went on, but Germany was unable to make it out of the group stages.
Still, the experience left an impression on the young guard.
"It's unbelievable," Lo said. "Dirk Nowitzki is a Hall of Famer. He's one of the greatest players to ever play basketball. To be around him, you learn a lot and Dennis Schroder is a great up-and-coming talent who is a really nice guy and has helped me out a lot. We have a really good relationship and he gives me a lot of tips."
Lo's soft-spokeness off the court often masks his unique background. His father is from Senegal and his mother is a world-renowned painter and sculptor from Germany. In a New York Times profile, his mother described him as an "artist with a basketball," an apt description for a creative scorer looking to make his way into professional basketball.
"My mother has been a big influence in my life obviously,” Lo said. “Basketball is an elegant sport. It’s nice to watch. I think there’s comparisons that basketball players are artists as well just as much as any other artistic craft. I hope to reach that elegance that my mother is able to demonstrate with her art as well.”
Part of Lo's craft comes from his intelligence on the court. The first thing Sixers director of basketball operations/scouting innovation Vince Rozman mentioned about Lo was "he's a bright kid." He is, after all, a newly minted Columbia graduate coming from a diverse background.
One of his teammates in 3-on-3 drills during Friday's workout, Baylor's Taurean Prince, echoed Rozman's sentiment.
"He's real smart," Prince said. "He makes pretty crisp decisions and he shoots the ball really well."
At 6-foot-3, Lo will likely need to run the point to make it at the next level. While he displayed his jumper and ball-handling ability Friday, he has an important adjustment ahead of him moving out of coach Kyle Smith's Princeton offense at Columbia.
"It's a sharing offense," Lo said of Columbia's offense. "You share the ball a lot. I think as an unselfish player, that's an offense that really plays to your benefit.
"But the NBA, as a point guard, you have the ball in your hands a lot, so that's the next step I have to make, get back to being comfortable with the ball in my hands more and making plays off pick and rolls. Obviously it's a very effective offense that helped us win games in college."
With that adjustment in mind comes a simple question: For a player who has already made a name for himself in Europe and could have gone pro at a younger age, why go to the NCAA and Columbia in the first place?
"Education," Lo said. "Education is very important to me. It always has been. I love basketball. Basketball is my life and my passion, but at some point in your life, it's good to have something else. In Europe, you can't combine both academics and athletics."
The Sixers' workout was Lo's second after the Minnesota Timberwolves previously brought him in. But just like his background and his playing overseas the last few years, Lo's NBA draft process has been anything but ordinary thus far.
"I just graduated," Lo said. "It's been less typical, I would say. Players are able to go to their agencies and their facilities. I just came off of finals and graduation, so this whole process is beginning for me now and I'm very excited to get it started."