Abraham “Abe” Woldeslassie is the first Black men’s college basketball coach of a Twin Cities college or university since Tubby Smith. Macalester College (Mac) in St. Paul hired him in April.
“We’re a top-25 liberal arts school, so my goal is to make sure our [basketball] program reaches the level of the college. I think we can be a top-25 program nationally,” he told the MSR last week at his office. “It’s nice to be home. I am so excited to get to work.”
A Minneapolis native, 2004 St. Thomas Academy graduate, and 2008 Mac grad, Woldeslassie has been an assistant coach at the Division I and III levels for the past eight years: Siena (NY) College (2016-18), Davidson (NC) College (2013-16), Dartmouth (NH) College (2012-13) and Bowdoin College (2010-12), along with a two-year stint with Impact Basketball in Las Vegas (2008-10), where he did player development and assisted with 2008 and 2009 NBA pre-draft workouts.
Woldeslassie said he’s always wanted to be a coach since he was a teenager, “probably since I was 13. I thought about teaching in high school and being a teacher-coach, or an assistant in college. I never thought about the pros. As I continued to play…I knew I was drifting more toward being a college coach.”
He sees Macalester as a “sleeping giant…a gold mine” that can become a perennial conference contender.
When he got the Mac job, Woldeslassie physically hit the road running. “My first day was May 1, and I got hired the week before that,” he recalled. “I was at Siena College, got the call, packed all my stuff up, drove 12 and a half hours to Chicago, stayed in Chicago for a night, then the next morning drove to Minneapolis.
“That was 18 and a half hours in two days, because I wanted to meet [the players]…to meet them face to face before they left for the summer, [about] how we want to change the direction of the program,” he said.
Woldeslassie takes over a program that went 3-22 last season and has 22 players on the roster. Being a school graduate – he has a sociology degree from Macalester – can help in recruiting and relating to his players as well, he said. “I think being able to speak to our guys on the team, recruits, and the parents – everything our students are going through as players, I’ve been through.
“I’ve had tough days in class as an athlete and a student. When we have a long road trip from Concordia Moorhead, and you have a test in the morning, I’ve done that. And it wasn’t that long ago – 10 years ago. It’s really fresh in my mind. I’m empathetic to everything they are going through.”
Woldeslassie joins St. Mary’s Jamison Rusthoven as the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s only Black head basketball coaches. “There are coaches before me that are more qualified but didn’t get the opportunity. Because I have this opportunity, I owe it to a lot of coaches who may not have had that chance.
“I carry that and really embrace that,” he said. “I’m grateful, and I know how hard and how rare it is for a coach of color to have this opportunity. I take that real seriously.”