The 2021-22 MIAC basketball season officially got underway last weekend as the member teams look to play a full season for the first time in almost two years. Only 32 games were played in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abe Woldeslassie in his fourth season at Macalester is the MIAC’s longest-tenured Black men’s head basketball coach since 2018. He returned to his alma mater (a 2008 graduate) after two years as an assistant coach at Siena College. Since taking over the helm, his Scots teams have increased their winning percentages in each of his first three seasons, including a COVID-shortened 2020-21 season when Mac finished 2-2.
“I’m very excited,” said Woldeslassie after a preseason intrasquad scrimmage attended by the MSR.
Three seniors are on the 18-man roster, primarily a majority underclassman squad: “We have 12-13 players who have never played a college basketball game,” noted the coach. This includes several first-year players like Robert Grace IV (Minneapolis Blake), Marcus Crawford (Edina), Badou Ba (Dakar, Senegal), and Jack Hernandez (New Hope and Hopkins).
“I’m excited about our young point guard,” admitted Woldeslassie on the 5’-10” Grace, who scored nine points, three assists, and two steals in last Saturday’s season opener, an 80-59 win over Luther College. “Undersized but super-fast, a lot of heart.”
This year’s Scots easily could be a mini-United Nations as four team members hail from outside the United States, including the 6’-7” Ba, who Woldeslassie pointed out is “very athletic but needs more reps.” He added that Hernandez, a 6’-9” post player, offers the potential to be solid in the paint.
Woldeslassie believes he has both the depth and talent to play up-tempo this season. “We want to play in the 80s and 90s every game,” he declared. “You got to make shots to do it. We got the talent to do it this year, a lot of youth, a lot of energy. We’re excited.
“It is our first game playing in front of fans in a year,” said Woldeslassie after last Saturday’s home win. “Our goal every game is 10 turnovers or less. We had four. For a young team, I was really pleased.”
This season’s first highlight was a second-half block by the team’s smallest player. “They were pushing the ball, and our 5’-8” point guard [Grace] came from behind and blocked the 6’-9” center and never gave up on the play,” marveled the coach. “I told our guys to play as hard as you can, and we will live with the results.
“A 21-point win in front of a great crowd is a good way to start the year,” stated Woldeslassie. “I feel we are at a point now that we can compete with everyone in the MIAC.” The Scots return home on Nov. 11 to host U-M Morris.
Woldeslassie invites the Twin Cities sporting community to come out and watch his Scots this season. All home games are free to the public. “We want fans to come and enjoy it,” he said. “We want to entertain kids and families.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.