Height Ain't Nothin But A Number

By Olivia Provan and Reilly Pruitt, Spotlight

Abe Woldeslassie and Tom Conboy have been playing basketball together since the age of 15. Despite the 12 inches and wide range of political views between them, both Woleslassie and Conboy have made a significant impact on the Macalester basketball team and social scene alike. With the season coming to an end, we sat down with these two hoopsters to find out what life is like as a social conservative at Mac and why winning isn’t really everything.MW: Abe, you were a transfer from St. Thomas. What prompted your switch to Macalester?

AW: Well, I originally applied here right out of high school. St. Thomas wasn’t getting it done for me. I reapplied as a transfer, and I talked to my main man, Tom Conboy. He suggested that I transfer to Macalester. So I reapplied as a transfer and here we are.

So you two knew each other prior to Macalester?

TC: We played basketball together back in the day. We went to camp together when we were 15. We were reunited through a mutual friend at the U of M and both ended up hanging out at his house together freshmen and sophomore years. From then on it was a pretty consistent theme. I was trying to get him to transfer here because he is a good dude and a great basketball player. I thought he could obviously come help us.

How would you say the two schools compare?

AW: St Thomas is mostly filled with students from suburban Minnesota with middle to upper class backgrounds. It’s a different vibe. I guess it’s more diverse here. Maybe not so diverse politically, but we shouldn’t go there now.

How would you describe your dynamic on the basketball court? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

TC: Well, it has been fun having Abe on the team. He is so fast that as long as I run the floor I know he is going to find me and help me make a play. That’s nice. He does so many other things well like shoot the ball and penetrate the perimeter. He opens things up for me and everyone else.

AW: Tom is the strongest player in the conference without a doubt. He dominates at scoring and rebounding and he shoots really well for a guy his size. We could maybe use some more dunks from him, but regardless he always finishes well. We help each other out on the court – he has my back and I have his.

Your team has struggled in recent weeks, how do you help maintain the morale and how do you think your game could be improved?

TC: That’s sports and it doesn’t do you any good to dwell on negative things. I just try to look forward and improve.

AW: Tom’s right, there is always the next game. I think the team looks to us a lot of the time – if we get down, everyone else gets down. Throughout the season we’ve had some team events to keep things good. We can still make the playoffs and all is not lost.

TC: We have such good chemistry that even if things aren’t going the way we want, it’s still fun to play basketball. We have fun both on and off the court.

AW: For sure, I think the team has a special dynamic. I have been in locker rooms where people don’t even speak to each other. That’s not the case here – we have something special.

Do either of you have any plans to play basketball after graduation?

TC: I haven’t really thought too much about it. I like to take things one day at a time. My parents certainly seem to be on that a lot and ask about what jobs I’m applying for and such. But that’s just not really my style to be concerned about things like that.

AW: I have thought a little more about it. I think if the opportunity arises, why not? But whatever happens. We don’t want to cloud our thoughts with distractions right now.

Tommy, how has your height affected your reputation at Mac? Abe same question, how would you act differently if you were forced to switch bodies for a day?

AW: Is there someone taller? I don’t think there is.

TC: There have been a few taller than me, but I tend not to categorize myself as such. I am just another person. Hopefully being tall has only positively affected my relationship here, but I think my striking good looks outweigh my height.

AW: I have always been the shortest person on the basketball team, so it’s not really anything new. In camp they would always line us up by height and I was always the shortest out of as many as 800 kids. One year I was second in the line and was so happy. I don’t know though, if I were T-Con’s size (6’8”) I might just knock some people over because I don’t get to do that kind of stuff.

You are known to possess fairly different political views than the majority of the student body. How do you deal with being a minority in such an extreme political environment?

AW: I’m liberal, but I’m not as far left as most of the Macalester contingent. I agree with a lot of what people here say – but not everything. It has been interesting to go from a place like St. Thomas, which is right of center to here. All the rallies on the plaza, the protesters with the signs on Summit – you don’t seem any of that at St. Thomas and it’s less than a mile away. The people are just more vocal about their thoughts here.

TC: I think that being at Macalester has really broadened my horizons politically. I was raised in a significantly more conservative environment and it was a major culture change coming here from Minnetonka. I think I have always tried to take everything that people offer with an open mind, whether I openly accept it or not. People with strong political opinions, conservative or liberal, they are all pretty cool. They all just have different ideas on how to do it and make the world a better place.

So would you say you have changed your position since coming here?

TC: When I first came to Macalester I would try to badger people and make them think about their political views by just arguing with them. Basically I would reiterate the conservative rhetoric I grew up with. But I feel like that just did more harm than good. When arguing you might develop relationships, but people aren’t that friendly. I will still raise some eyebrows with stuff I say. Now I just try to do so in a more joking or friendly fashion that I used to. I think a lot of times people, like Abe said, are so politically active and strong about their feelings on stuff. People like me can really get under their skin, but I am just joking around.

AW: It’s just so in your face here – I am always getting emails and handed flyers. I feel like it’s just so overwhelming. For those who might not agree it is hard to keep silent.

TC: I knew coming in that I would be a minority, but I just saw that as a chance to meet new and different people than I was accustomed to.

Do you plan on attending the caucuses tomorrow night?

AW: I probably wont go, but it will be exciting to see what happens.

TC: No, I am not too interested in this election. I don’t feel too passionately about the candidates. I care more about Super Bowl than the election. I am having a hard day today (day after the Super Bowl).

What would you want your legacy to be after you graduate from Macalester?

AW: That’s tough.

TC: I know, dude.

AW: I think I am more than an athlete. Since we are both basketball players and pretty often associated with the team it’s easy for people to put us into a box. Obviously basketball is an important part, but it doesn’t define us.

TC: My legacy, huh?

AW: A top scholar?

TC: I am who I am. Hopefully I will be remembered around here as just a good guy who wanted to make Macalester a better place and have fun. It’s hard to describe because people will remember what they want. I am glad people remember basketball, but there is more to me than just that.

AW: I like to think that people will still remember me as “Abe the Babe,” that’s what the ladies call me at least, and Tommy as T-Con. He has always been T-Con.