Ivy Leaguer, international veteran Maodo Lo takes unique road to NBA draft

Ivy Leaguer, international veteran Maodo Lo takes unique road to NBA draft

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."

Julius Erving, Allen Iverson gearing up for upcoming BIG3 draft

Julius Erving, Allen Iverson gearing up for upcoming BIG3 draft

The NFL isn't the only league with a draft coming up this month.

Julius Erving and Allen Iverson have some work to do, too.

The newly-formed BIG3 three-on-three league will hold the first player draft for its eight teams on April 30 in Las Vegas. Iverson is a player, captain and coach for 3's Company. Erving is the coach of Tri-State.

The BIG3 comes to the Wells Fargo center on July 16 during Week 4 of 10.

There are 24 spots remaining on the rosters. Over 70 former NBA players are hoping to be selected. Former Sixers Jumaine Jones, Larry Hughes, Reggie Evans, Joe Smith, Xavier Silas and Lee Nailon are among those eligible for the draft.

Other draft entrants include (in alphabetical order): Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Marcus Banks, Keith Bogans, Earl Boykins, Derrick Byars, Josh Childress, Brian Cook, Ndudi Ebi, Steve Francis, Kendall Gill, Donte Greene, Shane Heal, Mike James, Ivan Johnson, Voshon Lenard, Rashad McCants, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Lawrence Moten, Ronald "Flip" Murray, Andre Owens, Smush Parker, Jamario Moon, Ruben Patterson, Isaiah "J.R." Rider, Eddie Robinson, four-time All-Star Latrell Sprewell, DeShawn Stevenson, Mike Sweetney, Etan Thomas, Hakim Warrick and James White.

How the rosters currently stand:

3's Company: Allen Iverson (captain, player-coach), DerMarr Johnson (captain)

Ball Hogs: Brian Scalabrine, Player X, Rick Barry (coach)

Ghost Ballers: Captains Mike Bibby (captain), Ricky Davis (captain), George Gervin (coach)

Killer 3s: Chauncey Billups (captain), Stephen Jackson (captain), Charles Oakley (player-coach)

Power: Corey Maggette (captain), Cuttino Mobley (captain), Clyde Drexler (coach)

Three-Headed Monsters: Rashard Lewis (captain), Jason Williams (captain), Gary Payton (coach)

Trilogy: Kenyon Martin (captain), Al Harrington (captain), Rick Mahorn (coach)

Tri-State: Jermaine O’Neal (captain), Bonzi Wells (captain), Julius Erving (coach)

The BIG3 was founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz. It will kick off June 25 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: T.J. McConnell

Sixers 2016-17 player evaluation: T.J. McConnell

T.J. McConnell

Position: Point Guard

Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed -- $1,471,382

McConnell in 2016-17
Entering his second season as an undrafted free agent signing out of Arizona, T.J. McConnell was expected to be at the back of the Sixers' bench in 2016-17. With the team's signing veterans in free agency for the first time in a while, McConnell projected as the third-string point guard behind newcomers Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. If Ben Simmons was healthy, he could have been even further down the depth chart.

Obviously, things didn't go as planned. Bayless played just three games and Rodriguez dealt with injuries at times. That opened the door for McConnell, who moved into the starting lineup in mid-December. He seized the chance and held on for dear life, turning into a solid starting point guard and one of the bright spots on an improving Sixers team.

McConnell played all but one game this season and started 51 games, increased by 32 starts from 2015-16. In 26.3 minutes per game, McConnell averaged 6.9 points, 6.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. He struggled from three-point range, yet his field goal percentage stayed about the same year-over-year (47 to 46.1 percent). The 25-year-old point guard became a leader and a spark to the team, leading the team's impressive January alongside Joel Embiid. He also provided perhaps the moment of the season with his game-winner against the Knicks (see below) and proved to be unshaken in the clutch.

The Arizona product had 13 games with at least 10 assists, including 17 in Boston in early January. He averaged 9.3 assists per game in January and finished the month with five double-digit assist performances in six games. McConnell impressed enough that, according to reports, the Cavaliers inquired about his availability in hopes of making him Kyrie Irving's backup on the defending champions. 

Signature games
There were plenty this season, so I'll offer two. 

First up is his first start. Bayless, Rodriguez and Joel Embiid were all out when the Sixers traveled to Detroit on Dec. 11. McConnell rose to the occasion with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, just an assist shy of a triple-double in the Sixers' 97-79 win.

And the other signature game would, of course, be against the Knicks. He took just six shots and had eight points on Jan. 11 but his final shot was a big one, his game-winning jumper as time expired to beat the Knicks, 98-97. He also had seven rebounds, six assists and two steals in the home victory and produced a fist-pump for the ages in celebration at the end of the game.

Looking ahead to 2017-18
McConnell established himself as an NBA point guard in 2016-17, but he probably won't retain his starting role to begin 2017-18.

With Simmons and Bayless returning to health, McConnell will likely be relegated back to the bench, albeit in a larger role than the start of last season. His performance from his first start to the end of the year earned him a rotation spot assuming the Sixers don't spend big on one of the top point guards on the free agent market.

McConnell also has developed strong chemistry with each returning player for the Sixers, so he can fit in seamlessly as the point guard for any lineup. How he works alongside Simmons remains to be seen. His lack of three-point shooting could mean that he is forced to the bench when Simmons is in.

On McConnell
"The point guard in Philly, the kid from Arizona. He's a pure point guard, he makes their team better. ... [McConnell's] kind of overmatched in a lot of ways but he's smart, he's tough and he plays. He's a pure point guard, and there's still tons of value in that."

- Former MVP point guard Steve Nash

"He's a (Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania kid that nobody gave a chance and tripped on an opportunity with a program that's in the rebuild mode on my 17th point guard. You go through that massive volume of point guards and you have somebody that doesn't go away. … There's an injury, and so you give him the ball. He seized the moment, grabbed an opportunity and he ran hard with it. The preparation prior to that opportunity happening for him was A-plus. … To see him be rewarded, it's a great story."

- Sixers head coach Brett Brown after his shot vs. the Knicks

"He certainly represents everything that this organization represents and this city represents in terms of grit and tenacity and that fierceness that we’re looking for."

- Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo