Maodo Lo has grown up

Cesare Milanti
17 min readApr 4, 2022

In the midst of a growth process involving German basketball, Maodo Lo took on the ranks of the absolute protagonist.

My city (Euroleague Basketball)

The various tournaments around the world that made up the tetrahedral structure of the Preolimpic with a view of the Tokyo Olympics, on the eve, did not seem to foresee many fairy tales on the horizon from the happy ending. In Victoria there was no doubt about a duel between the hosts and Greece, in Belgrade we know how much Serbia was favored, in Lithuania it was expected that Doncic and his companions would have had a hand and in Split, well, it was hard to see Croatia thrown out of a group that saw between the contenders Tunisia, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and Germany. Difficult, yes, but not entirely unlikely.

Yet the path that leads Bogdan Bogdanovic, Mario Hezonja & Co. to the final stages is tortuous. A collapse against Brazil (94–67 from the guys of the former Croatia’s coach Aza Petrovic, seen in Pesaro at the beginning of the LBA 2021/2022) and a shy 75–70 against the small Tunisia lead the Balkan to the semi-final of the Spaladium Arena, on Thursday July the 1st. Opposite is Germany, a compact team, with many points and a few commas, at most a couple of exclamation punctuation in high Euroleague players, especially in the long package. There are Johannes Voigtmann and Danilo Barthel, there is Mo Wagner - and not yet his brother Franz, a talent that appears generational for the future of German basketball - but Dennis Schröder is absent. Above all, it is the second attempt to qualify for an Olympics for this National Team: the last time Dirk was at the peak of his career and had dragged his team to Beijing 2008. On this occasion, we need another leader to take the lead when the ball starts to burn. It will not have that fadeaway in its repertoire, nor the long blonde hair with which the vast majority of hairdressers in Dallas began to become familiar at the turn of the first two decades of the century. But he makes the basket - and a lot, 29 points against Croatia in that game - and he takes the team on his shoulders, while he runs the ball in hand.

Hosts KO, Brazil defeated in the last stage of a ride that would lead them to the Rising Sun. And a number 4 to pay homage, under the two letters imprinted on the shoulders: Lo. Maodo, the name that goes crazy in the streets of Berlin when it is Gameday for ALBA, able to unite under the same colors a city divided between Hertha and Union. Able to pull a whole country, ready to relive the Olympic emotions even on the parquet: “The summer was very special for us, as German team. It wasn’t expecting for us to make the Olympics, we went to the qualification tournament. We had good chemistry and we were able to qualify. We were very happy and we took this euphoria and excitment straight to the Olympics. For me personally, before my first game in Tokyo it was a feeling full of joy, happiness and excitment to be able to play. You sensed it was a big stage: the whole world is watching, Germany is watching and this was very fun for me to be part of. I’m very happy when I reflect upon my experience in the Olympics cause I feel like I enjoyed the time. I wasn’t too stressed or anxious, I just enjoyed. That’s why I’m very happy about my experience, I didn’t miss the joy of the tournament”.

Checked in (FIBA)


The feeling is that the player who drags the German national basketball team to its sixth participation in the Olympic Games is the classic guy who does not separate a similar stage from the courts where he grew up, in his Berlin. He is a lover of the game, and he manifests it by presenting himself to our chat with a stylized basketball player on a white t-shirt. He brings basketball with him for most of his day, as well as another life partner: “I like music a lot, I always listen to music non stop: in the car, at home… music is a big part of my life”.

I think I am not wrong to say that he has kept the same approach in the group that would have played well in Tokyo as well, circumscribed in terms of consistency and compactness: “I’ve good relationships with many of my compatriots. I think we were able to build continuity over the years, so you see the same players, the same guys. Obviously the guys who I shared many tournaments wiht by now, we get along, we are in touch and we see each other in Euroleague games. I’m also in touch with Dennis (Schröder, ndr), we are all good guys. There’s nobody who’s like a bad human being or something”.

Born just moments from the beginning of 1993 (“As a child, I always used to look forward to the end of December, because we have Christmas and then a week after there would be my birthday and consequentelly one wide celebration”), it is with this Olympic review that Maodo Lo has made a significant leap in quality. Between Split and Tokyo, he took his basketball to a level never reached before: in the Preolimpic he averaged 12.8 points and 4 assists, in the top ten in both statistics, while in Japan he reached 13.5 points and 5 assists per game, including a 24-point show (6/9 from the perimeter) in the debut against Italy.

Olympic Dream (FIBA)

Luka Doncic - helped by the 27 points of Zoran Dragic - will take care of the German dreams in a quarter final in which the star of the Dallas Mavericks produces 20 points with 11 assists. In an Olympics in which the pointguards gave a show - we think of Doncic himself, but also of Ricky Rubio, Patty Mills and Evan Fournier -, Maodo Lo did not wear the shoes of the exception that confirms the rule.

This year, with the departure of Fontecchio in the direction of Baskonia, is without any doubt the go-to-guy of the team, with Luke Sikma to act as a refined mind. But it is early to open the exciting chapter of the present, because there is a question to answer about the past of this now experienced protagonist of the Euroleague: where does Maodo Lo come from?

Germany to the US and way back: the beginnings of Maodo Lo

As anticipated, Maodo was born while the city was preparing to celebrate the arrival of the new year. Born in a family out of the ordinary, since his dad Alioune, a couscous farmer from the Senegalese region of Kaffrine, called him like that to honour a famous religious figure of West Africa, Malick Sy, who was called “Maodo”, which means “Great One”. But above all with art, that occupies a place at the table and will not leave him at every stage of his life off the court: “My mum is an artist (the New York Times talks in this article about his mother Elvira Bach, one of the most known German painters globally, ed), so that’s the reason why I’m interested in art and I like to go to museums and exbhitions, since I grew up in an artist household: I would say this is an interest of mine”.

He is as said a simple guy (“I care about family a lot, I like to take care of the people who are close to me. Spending time with friends, and I like to enjoy the different parts of the city: architecture, taking walks, enjoy the food. I would say of the court I’m just a normal guy”), one of those who have clear ideas about the role that basketball will have in their parable.

After growing up in the Central Hoops, a project of basketball development in Berlin, comes the first shot to take and stick in a 6.380-kilometer-long retina, those that separate Berlin from New York, but so narrow that it can curb the ambitions of the one who, at the end of the day, he’s a 20-year-old boy who’s never been out of bounds. Yet it is precisely that collegial experience in the Big Apple that prepares him for what would come next: “Those four years are a very significant time of my life. I spent four years there, which is long enough to really make this an episode of my life. I enjoyed the university, the city of New York, the Campus was right in Manhattan, on Broadway Avenue and 116th street, so it was very central. I’m from Berlin, I grew up in a big city, so New York felt very much like home. It’s also one reason why I decided to go to Columbia University because it seemed very familiar to me. I love New York, his energy and pace and I met a lot of friends there as well”. Although great team successes did not arrive, without ever being able to score a qualification to March Madness - but with a triumph and a title of MVP in the Postseason Tournament 2016 -, his performance is one of those that stand out: 14.5 points per game and a decent repertoire, with the need to improve the percentages shooting free throws.

New York lover, with an appreciable University trajectory: next step NBA? “I was offered a deal back then to have a partially garantied deal for the Sixers, maybe if you don’t make the roster you end up in the G-League (all after playing in the Summer League in Las Vegas, with 7.9 points and 2.4 rebounds averaged in 21' of use in seven games, ed). It stinks of a big but, in fact, it comes a few moments later: “I didn’t wanna take the risk and I decided to sign with Bamberg”. The transition to stars and stripes is temporary, because, after those four years in Manhattan, the call home comes almost naturally, with Maodo Lo who, once back at the base, would not leave Germany: “Bamberg at the time was the most dominant team in Germany for sure, since they were the only ones in Euroleague. I wanted to give myself a chance to play in the second best league after the NBA. I wanted to improve, to learn. I learned a lot with Trinchieri, a very tough but great coach: he was able to improve my understanding of basketball, which was very important for my growth. Then, after my second year, Bamberg didn’t play in the Euroleague anymore, so I decided to move to Bayern Munich to stay in the Euroleague”. But let’s go in order.

Maodo Lo’s numbers in his best year in college, as a junior: 18.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game

A German in Italy

The Bamberg where Maodo Lo lands in the summer of 2016 is a team that knows what it’s doing, a project in the second year of his maturation, with Andrea Trinchieri to weave the threads after a first year in which they were put on the bulletin board Bundesliga and Germany Supercup. A group that has said goodbye to Brad Wanamaker and that focuses the spotlight on a Nicolò Melli in absolute star version, with elements of level as Nikos Zizis, Janis Strelnieks and Daniel Theis to contribute to the success of the team. In short, the ideal group in which to lay the foundations for its growth at an ambitious level like the Euroleague, with a coach who asks for a lot, returning just as much: “In that system, I learned a level of professionalism immediately. What it takes to be high level basketball player. Coach Trinchieri demands a lot, he’s a perfectionist: he wants nothing but the best from you. What amazed me about him is that his understanding of basketball is so good. If you make once mistake, he will immediately see it: no mistake will go past him. He doesn’t need to watch the video, as the mistake happens he sees it”.

Maodo Lo’s two seasons at the Brose Arena are a two-sided medal. The first certainly golden, because in addition to the Bundesliga this time also comes the BBL-Pokal, with some extra difficulties in the Euroleague; the second, instead, represents the beginning of the rise of Bayern Munich and several difficulties for Bamberg, with Trinchieri being waived, leaving room for a short parenthesis by Luca Banchi. But they are, trophies on the board or not, years in which this point guard with the habit of attacking the basket learns a lot, especially for his teammates in the locker room: “For me, coming out of college, it was tough because I had to learn a lot. The level was obviously a whole different level, from college to Euroleague, especially with such a great team full of veterans and amazing players: Nicolò Melli, Nikos Zisis, Fabien Causeur, Janis Strelnieks, Darius Miller, Daniel Theis and so on. You know what I mean, all of these experienced guys: not only talented, they knew how to play basketball. They understood pick&roll, movement, spacing: this was the level and I wasn’t even close, I had to learn. My remembering of this time was very positive, it was a great year in which we won everything in Germany and we competed very well in Euroleague, unfortunately we lost some close games. It was a special year and I will never forget it. Not only were Trinchieri and Melli italians, but also Daniele Baiesi, who I had very good relationship with, who always supported me and gave me the chance to come to Bamberg. Nikos Zizis spoke italian as well, so there was a big italian connection there”.

And speaking of Italy, it is precisely speaking of the climate that was living in Bamberg that Maodo Lo comes out with a joke that I did not expect at all, but that still makes me smile today: “If I’m in Italy or something, I would not order a hawaian pizza (he laughs a lot, ed)! If I’m in Bologna I would order tagliatelle al ragù, you know? I would try to be traditional, experiencing the most authentic and local experiences as possible”. Seeing him particularly inspired by food, I urge him to spend a few weeks immersed in Italian cuisine, with a curiosity about who introduced him to the theme: “I remember Daniele Baiesi from the time when I was in Munich: he’s from Bologna and he likes the italian cousine and wine a lot. I was always asking him questions about italian culture, dining, food and cuisine. He taught me a lot! I would love to visit, maybe this summer, who knows!”.

Before leaving Bamberg in the direction of Munich, Maodo Lo spent what is the second and last of his years in his first professional club. In 2017/2018 the renewal is heavy, with the significant farewell of Nik Melli in the direction of Fenerbahce, but the additions are still of high level: Daniel Hackett and Ricky Hickman, just to name a couple. The seasonal averages remain at the same level as the previous year, but his placement in the field and leadership when called to the current race are under everyone’s eyes.

The time to move comes in the summer of 2018, when the champions of Germany make him pick up the phone. The call comes again from Daniele Baiesi, who in the meantime has moved to Bavaria and who will bring with him once again Andrea Trinchieri. Once again two seasons, once again significant improvements: it maintains the performance standards of recent months in Bamberg and makes an extra step from the point of view of offensive decision, as well as refine some gaps in the defense on the ball. And above all, he wins again in the first round: a clear path in the playoffs, 3-0 against ALBA Berlin and Bundesliga in the pocket, in a team that boasted the first European Derrick Williams and a Nihad Đedović in the middle of his basketball maturing, as well as the very solid Vladimir Lucic and Danilo Barthel.

Just like in Bamberg, however, once the basis for winning has been laid, it cannot be repeated. A first place in the regular season (19-2) perhaps gives rise to a kind of pressure that the Bavarians can not stand, despite the premises were encouraging: in the summer Greg Monroe arrived from the NBA, which was expected to have a dominant impact and which, on the other hand, relatively disappointed expectations. The expectations of that group, in which Diego Flaccadori was also entering, are swept away by the pandemic, which interrupts the Euroleague and makes the Bundesliga resume more than three months after the March 2020 stop. The result? So many difficulties in the playoffs and elimination against Ludwigsburg, who will come to the end and then lose against ALBA Berlin.

2/3 (Miguel Henriquez/Getty Images/Euroleague Basketball)

From sunset to sunrise (ALBA, in italian): Maodo Lo returns to Berlin

It is the beginning of a winning two-year period for the yellow and blue, and Maodo Lo is still not fully aware of it. With the arrival of Andrea Trinchieri on the bench of the Bavarians in summer 2020, in fact, the time comes again to pack. Maybe this time it’s really time to cross the border to see continental basketball from a different perspective than Germany. Or maybe not: “After Munich, I had some options to play abroad in some others european clubs, but I come from Berlin and I wanted to be close to my family cause there were some things to take care of, some private familiar situations. That’s one of the reasons why I signed here. It has been great so far, I love my city, Berlin, and the organization is special, just like the culture, which is really positive as well. I’m having a lot of fun”.

There is nothing better than to work having fun, and Maodo Lo brings a revenue of all respect to the end of his another day in the office, with desk and computer on the parquet of the Mercedes-Benz Arena. As usual, the first is a winning year, under the guidance of a veteran of European basketball as Alejandro García Reneses, for all Aito. The Bundesliga is back in the capital again, although the rivalry with Bayern Munich is more heated than ever: the men of Trinka, in fact, come close to a historic qualification to the Euroleague Final Four, as well as snatching the German Cup 2020/2021 from the hands of the Berliners. The rematch came at the end of February, although without a direct clash between what are considered the calamitous powers in the German basketball scene: Bayern Munich crashed in the quarterfinals against the modest Chemnitz and ALBA took advantage to take home the BBL-Pokal, overcoming the Crailsheim Merlins in the final thanks to 20 points of a Maodo Lo in MVP version.

The best seasonal version of the prodigal son with the number 0 on his shoulders, however, was certainly seen on Thursday, March 10th, against the Olympiacos of Kostas Sloukas, Tyler Dorsey and Shaquielle McKissic. A game of which he speaks, with excessive modesty, in these terms: “Personally, in college I had really good games, but it’s a different level. I had good games in Olympics and in Split, for sure. In this season we lost a very close game against CSKA Moscow, but I had the same PIR as when I got the MVP against Olympiacos. It’s definetely one of the best games of my career, but it’s someone else’s job to judge”. Evaluate yourself: 27 points (5/6 in the area and 5/6 from the arc), 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 34 of PIR.

Victory against the Euroleague’s third force and first MVP of the Round of his career, despite having racked up more than one excellent game in this regular season that has seen ALBA Berlin close to the playoffs: 23 points from the former against Bayern Munich, 22 points against Red Star, 26 points against CSKA Moscow and so on. His qualitative leap is all to be seen: he went from 9.5 to 13.5 points per game in regular season, he collects 1 extra rebound per game and shoots with 44.4% from the perimeter: an exceptional improvement compared to 34.6% last season.

The progress is remarkable and substantial, and the merit must also be shared with those who sit on the bench. After seven years spent learning from the master between Gran Canaria and ALBA Berlin, this year the coach of the reigning champions of Germany is Israel Gonzalez. One approach, that of Spanish, halfway between continuity and new elements to internalize, Maodo tells me: “Israel took over and he’s continuing basically a very similar approach of Aito, a similar system with the same philosophy and approach. It’s working well: he’s doing a great job, he spent a lot of time with Aito and you can tell that he has experience in absorbing and learning from Aito. But he’s also incorporating his own style at the same time, he’s not copying 100%. He’s alternating some things and adapting to different situations, he’s very competitive and he wants to win badly. At the same time, he makes sure to have a good atmosphere to develop as well. He’s managed this balance between competitiveness and development very well. Everyone is very happy for him that he’s doing such a great job”.

The results, as mentioned, can be seen: ALBA, although with the exclusion of the Russian teams, has come a step away from the Euroleague playoffs, in which instead have been inserted rivals of Bayern Munich. Although for most of the year they could not count on a 100% roster of physical fitness, the last phase of the season saw them defeated only with well-equipped teams, such as Barcelona and Anadolu Efes, as well as against Baskonia of the former Rokas Giedraitis, Simone Fontecchio and Jayson Granger: “We are playing well and even tough at the beginning of the season a lot of journalists and experts they were all saying “Oh, ALBA Berlin: look at this roster, it’s an Eurocup team”, I think we can be proud of ourselves at this point of the season. We are playing with an injured roster all season, missing key players like Marcus Eriksson, Yovel Zoosman, Louis Olinde. Especially Marcus. And we missed these guys for a long time and it needs to be recognised. We have rookies and young players, such as Oscar da Silva, Tamir Blatt, Malte Delow and Jonas Mattisseck. So, if you take a stepback and look at us, we might not in the Euroleague playoff, but I’m very happy with the conditions with which we are competing right now, with all the problems that we had. Eleven of us had Covid-19 at the same time, we lost five straight games. But we are fighting and we are showing that we can compete in the Euroleague altought we are not in our best shape possible. I’m very happy and proud of how we are playing and how the season has enfolded so far: I hope we can compete for the Bundesliga win”.

My chat with Maodo Lo comes to an end, but I am curious to know his point of view on one of the most discussed topics in the recent past of European basketball: the development of basketball in the German landscape, with the Bundesliga that has represented and is representing a crucial middle ground for the growth of certain players. Our Nicolò Melli and Simone Fontecchio, or in the past players like Will Clyburn and Kyle Hines, for example. The feeling, however, is that we are looking to the future head-on.

Maodo confirms this impression: “The movement here is improving. You have some Eurocup teams now, with Hamburg and Ulm. You have Euroleague teams, you have more and more younger players who are getting more opportunities. This was not always the case in Germany. When I was around 20 or 21 years old, I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to play in a Bundesliga team: it was a little bit different nine years ago. Now young players are getting opportunities to play and this is good for the talent of the country, it’s a big time for the development. This has been good for German basketball and by now we have talents. When you look at our national team we have deacent talents: NBA players, Euroleague and good German local players. I think it’s growing and I’m happy we were able to make the Olympics, qualifying out of our round. It’s good and I think the culture of basketball is growing and growing here in Germany”.

He will not say this because of his modesty, but this growth is also thanks to him: from the semi-final with Croatia to the MVP against Olympiacos, always in Germany and with Germany. Maodo Lo really grew up.

All eyes on him (Ciamillo-Castoria)



Cesare Milanti

22 years old, 2 books, 1 Erasmus in Bilbao. Here some non-basketball related stuff (in italian) and the translations of some of my basketball articles.