From MIAC doormat to title favorite, Macalester basketball ready to show how far it has come in exhibition vs. Gophers

Ask players why they came to St. Paul, many from all parts of the country, to play men’s college basketball at Macalester, the first word out of their mouth is “Abe.”

They believed in who head coach Abe Woldeslassie was and the confidence he exuded in his vision to lift the program to new heights. They wanted to join Woldeslassie’s construction project to experience what it was like to truly build something.

“It looks like it’s working so far,” said junior guard Caleb Williams, who was third in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference scoring last season at 21.5 points per game.

Woldeslassie, a Macalester alum, is in sixth season at the helm of the Scots’ program. In the season prior to his arrival, the Scots went 3-22 — a bad season that, frankly, was par for the program’s course.

Every year under Woldeslassie’s guidance, the Scots have improved.

“And this is the first year where I feel like we are MIAC favorites,” the coach said. “I believe we are a top-25 team in the country (in Division III). Now, we’ve got to go out there and prove it and all that, but when all is said and done, I think that’s where we’re at right now.”

Why? Woldeslassie cited the team’s confidence and maturity. The Scots return most of their key contributors. The coaching staff, led by Woldeslassie and assistant Conner Nord, is also blessed with continuity.

That’s all visible in the Scots’ brand of play. They’re a congruent unit that plays with high-tempo, a bevy of ball movement and a surplus of shooters.

“We just play for one goal, and that’s to win. I think that shows,” junior guard Coby Gold said. “And I just feel like there’s so much energy around this program that it’s a lot of joy and unselfishness. It’s a lot of fun.”

Fans who perhaps aren’t as familiar with Macalester could get a close-and-personal look on Thursday night, when the Scots travel to Williams Arena to take on the Gophers in an exhibition game. Woldeslassie thanked Gophers head coach Ben Johnson and assistant coach Dave Thorson for the matchup, while adding it shows “where our program is at and the respect we’ve earned.”

Macalester finished with a winning conference record last season. The year prior, it made a stunning run to the MIAC Tournament title game.

It’s unfathomable success for the program that for so long was a conference doormat. It has been a slow build to this point, Woldeslassie noted. But the results of the work put in over the past six years — essentially, five seasons given the Scots played just four games during the 2020-21 COVID shutdown — are tangible.

“We’re a school where we don’t recruit from the transfer portal. So we’ve had one student transfer in in five years, (and) we’ve had two students transfer out in five years,” Woldeslassie said. “I think we’ve done a good job in recruiting the right players with the right mindset that fit the way we want to play. It hasn’t been a quick fix. It wasn’t like Year 2 we had 20 wins or anything. But, every single year, our winning percentage has gone up. And I feel like this year will be the same.”

If that is again the case, Macalester will be in line for a special season. The external expectations are as such.

“It’s cool. I think we kind of have a target on our back,” junior guard Tom Andreae said. “And that’s a good way for us to just play hard and it’ll get us better each day.”

Players noted those outside expectations didn’t really exist entering past seasons. The fact that has changed shows the ways in which they’ve fulfilled their goals of advancing the program.

Thursday is another step in that process. Woldeslassie noted the game with the Gophers is an exhibition. Win or lose, Macalester will be 0-0 afterward. The Scots tip things off for real at home Nov. 8 against Wisconsin-Superior.

But there are things on the line Thursday, nonetheless. The last time Macalester and Minnesota met was in 1922. Woldeslassie said the Scots won that night, 12-11.

“So there’s a 100-year winning streak on the line,” the coach joked.

Seriously, the Scots do have every intention of competing at a high level against the Big Ten program. They firmly believe in their abilities to do that.

Williams noted the Scots are flush with “really-skilled basketball players.” The game with the Gophers will give Macalester — which will be without star big man Ba Badou, who is sidelined with a knee injury — a chance to test itself against a team Williams said “may be more physically gifted than us.”

“I really value this opportunity going into this season, a season that we expect to be either ranked or very highly thought of, country-wide,” he said. “It’s coming at a great time and hopefully gives us a chance to prove ourselves.”

To everyone, including local onlookers.

“Hopefully we’ll bring an energy that they won’t expect,” Williams said. “Also, maybe their concept or idea of Macalester basketball isn’t really what we are right now.”

What the Scots are now is who Williams always knew they could be.

“I think I knew from the moment I got here, with the guys that I had around me, that in due time, with the right amount of effort and directed effort, that we would be able to build a program. And, hopefully, change what it means to be a Macalester basketball player,” Williams said. “I think I believed then, I believe now, I believe in where we’re going. And, hopefully, we’ll get other people to believe that, too.”

Related Articles

College Sports |

Area college football: Aaron Syverson’s seven first-half TD passes pace Johnnies rout

College Sports |

Area college football: Johnnies’ Aaron Syverson passes for 498 yards, five TDs to top Concordia (Moorhead)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous post Boys soccer state tournament: Maple Grove slips past Park in OT. ‘That was heartbreak.’
Next post Gophers men’s basketball: Ben Johnson explains lopsided scrimmage loss to Colorado State