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The Chairman is leading Germany to Tokyo

Former Columbia star Maodo Lô latest piece of art is leading his country to the Olympics.

Germany v Brazil - Final: 2020 FIBA Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament Photo by Jurij Kodrun/Getty Images

As Columbia fans well know, the Chairman knows how to navigate a tournament setting.

Maodo Lô was at it again five years in change after cutting down the nets in the CIT for the Lions, this time leading Germany to its first Olympics appearance since 2008. The point guard paced Germany throughout its five-game run through the Split, Croatia qualifying tournament, averaging 12.8 points and 4 assists per game.

And what would international basketball be other than an opportunity to relive some mid-major moments?

There was a distinct similarity to Lô spearheading senior-laden Columbia to its greatest basketball success since making the NCAA Tournament in 1968. The lead guard known in New York as the Chairman was dynamic throughout that CIT sprint but most so in the semifinal, where he poured in 29 points as the Lions blew out NJIT.

Lô again made the semifinals his personal stomping ground last week against the hosts in Split. He sliced through the lane throughout the game to post a stat line (29 points, 8 assists) that allowed Die Mannschaft to withstand 38 points from Bojan Bogdanovic in a 10-point, comeback win over Croatia.

Germany then locked down what had been a high-flying Brazil team to earn one of the four final Olympic bids up grabs. The team had similarly punched its ticket through a qualifying tournament for its last appearance in Beijing in 2008. That Lo is at the heart of a basketball resurgence in Germany would likely surprise no one that tracked his career in the Ivy League.

The Berlin native was the central figure in the Lions recording two 20-win seasons over a three year span from 2014-16, which was notable since the program hadn’t had such a campaign since 1970. He led the attack in Kyle Smith’s efficient, plodding offense that launched the coach first to San Francisco, and then to Washington State.

The New York Times ran a feature on Lô amid the Lions’ 25-win season in 2015-16 that explored his love of art passed down from his mother, a painter and sculptor who has had her work displayed in the Guggenheim. Smith talked about what Lô brought to the court in that piece.

Lo’s game, Smith said, has a light-footed, almost airy quality.

“He can get to the basket, and there’s no contact anywhere — he doesn’t get touched,” Smith said.

Lo’s finesse is largely self-made. His father favored soccer, and though Bach said that she used to run triathlons and her mother played handball, her son discovered basketball on his own. Her understanding of the game grew accordingly. Lo said that she used to attend his youth games, bring a newspaper, and forget to put the paper down when play resumed after timeouts.

The guard left Columbia third in career scoring (1,756) and first in three pointers made (277), while starting 112 games and being a near constant for Smith since his first day on campus.

He’s continued that as a pro in Europe, playing big roles on a trio of EuroLeague teams — Brose Bramberg, Bayern Munich and Alba Berlin — over the past five years. Hist most recent season saw him average 9.5 points and 3.1 assists per game alongside former Louisville star Peyton Siva for his hometown Alba Berlin. He’s also been a constant in the German national team set up, and had an even bigger role in Split with Lakers’ star Dennis Schroder not taking part (which could reportedly change in Tokyo).

Lô talked about what Smith had meant for Columbia when he left for USF following the CIT triumph.

“I feel like he changed around the culture here,’’ Columbia senior Maodo Lo said. “Turned it into a winning program.’’

That feeling should be mutual after all that Lô accomplished in New York. Five years later, he’s cutting down the nets again with bigger dreams on the horizon.