Are they championship contenders yet?
The fifth season of Macalester men’s basketball under Abe Woldeslassie begins Nov. 8, the first of four consecutive home games to start the 2022-23 season.
“This will be the first year where every single player on the team we recruited,” declared Woldeslassie, the MIAC’s only Black head basketball coach, on his 14-player squad. “We are very excited about our talent,” which includes seven sophomores, three juniors, three freshmen and a senior, he noted.
Macalester is fresh off one of the school’s historic runs, the first sixth seed in league history that finished as MIAC runners-up last season, finishing 15-13 overall.
“Last year we were at one point 4 and 9,” recalled Woldeslassie, “and we won 11 of our last 14. This year we are not sneaking up on anyone.
“Some may look at it as pressure,” continued the coach. “I look at it as opportunity. We have the confidence, depth, and the experience to be a championship contender. I don’t say that lightly. We earned that right, now we have to go out there and prove it.”
Woldeslassie, the Minneapolis native and St. Thomas Academy graduate (where he was all-conference and 2004 team co-MVP) later finished his college career at MAC after transferring from St. Thomas. There he became a two-time MIAC assists leader and two-time all-MIAC guard before graduating in 2008 with a sociology degree.
His point guard acumen is in full mode when you watch Woldeslassie patrol the sidelines during games. At practice he’s encouraging, correcting and demanding with his players—sometimes all three at once. He was hired as HC in 2018, and once back Woldeslassie has pushed the Scots into improving their win totals each year, save for the COVID-affected season in 2020-21 when Macalester finished 2-2.
He’s “very grateful” to the school’s administration: “I feel so supported, which as a coach you need that,” stressed Woldeslassie.
Three Minnesotans are among this season’s returnees: Robert Grace IV (Blake), Marcus Crawford (Edina) and Jack Hernandez (Hopkins).
“I feel good coming in,” Grace said last week before a practice. “Definitely more familiar, more comfortable on the floor this year coming in as a sophomore.”
Woldeslassie likes his young returnees, which also include sophs Coby Gold, who led the MIAC last season in made threes, and Badou Ba, who led in blocks per minute, along with junior Caleb Williams.
The Scots men will be a fun team to watch this season, by all indications. Their coach likes his team’s chemistry both on and off the court. “They really like being around each other and spend a lot of time together,” noted Woldeslassie.
His most consistent hammering point in preparing for the season is that everyone can’t be a scorer but every player can do something to help the team be successful.
“I think they understand that now,” said Woldeslassie. “You may not get a highlight for setting a screen or diving on the floor, but those are things that are going to help us win.”
Macalester’s season opener is on Election Night, November 8, at 7 pm against Martin Luther College. The game, like all MAC home games, are free to the public.
“Vote in the morning and come to Macalester at night,” advised Woldeslassie. “It’s taken five years to get to this point. We came from seven wins in my first year to eight wins…and last year we had 15 wins.
“I cannot guarantee that we can do better than that, but we are striving for that,” he concluded. “I can’t wait for our home opener November 8.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.