Lately, junior transfer guard Tomas Woldetensae has been on fire. Recruited to join a depleted guard corps after Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA Draft and Marco Anthony transferred, Woldetensae had a disappointing start to the season. He shot 20.6 percent from the field and 14.3 percent from three-point range through Virginia’s first seven games. In the last four games, however, Woldetensae shot 47.6 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from three, including a season-high 11 points in the Cavaliers’ 56-47 win over North Carolina.
He is beginning to display his many talents on the court. Yet this is not where his talents end. Hailing all the way from Bologna, Italy, Woldetensae has a rich background that involves much more than just basketball.
Although Woldetensae’s extended family is from Eritrea, Woldetensae is native to Bologna. The city is renowned for bologna sausage, bolognese sauce and being the birthplace of the Lamborghini.
However, it is also known for its sports culture, especially in basketball and soccer. Woldetensae began playing basketball at just six years old but was initially a stellar swimmer.
“I was above average for the kids in my age group,” Woldetensae said of his swimming abilities.
Much to Woldetensae’s coaches’ disappointment, however, his swimming days were short-lived. According to Woldetensae, he quit because he found the water at swim meets too cold.
Woldetensae turned to basketball and soccer shortly after but was forced to choose between the less dangerous of the two sports. His mother Zaid Woldetensae said the safer option was basketball, and that’s what he chose. After a broken nose and thumb three years into the sport, Woldetensae recalls his mother’s regret.
Despite early injuries, Woldetensae was a bright talent. Like many international players, he targeted high schools in the U.S. to pursue his dreams of playing basketball at a higher level.
Woldetensae ended up at Victory Rock Prep in Bradenton, Fla. because it was “the only school who responded to emails.”
After two seasons at Victory Rock Prep, Woldetensae dominated at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. Woldetensae shot 47 percent from the field, 47.6 percent from 3-point range and 88.5 percent from the free throw line while playing there.
Woldetensae understands he has a lower profile background and owns up to it. His two seasons at Indian Hills were key to gaining the opportunity to play at Virginia.
“I know I am an underdog,” Woldetensae said. “People don’t know me or see me coming, but that’s the way I like it.”
When big college teams began the recruitment process with Woldetensae, his Indian Hills coaches advised him to be patient and wait for the right school.
“Other college coaches called my Indian Hills coaches but Virginia called me,” Woldetensae said, remembering the call from Coach Tony Bennett that helped Woldetensae make his final decision.
Woldetensae has had big shoes to fill as a scoring guard for the 2019 national champions and is just recently coming into his own. He continues to regain his smooth shooting stroke after a wrist injury he sustained last spring.
Yet while basketball has been a skill he has had to work to develop, talents such as art and cooking have come naturally to Woldetensae.
“I can’t remember ever learning how to draw or how to cook,” Woldetensae said. “They were just things I did.”
Growing up, Woldetensae dreamed of being a cartoonist. Before playing basketball at Victory Prep, Woldetensae attended Scuola Superiore Giuseppe Arcangeli, an upper secondary school for art students in Bologna. Currently, Woldetensae is an art major with a concentration in photography.
Before committing to photography, Woldetensae considered a concentration in sculpture. He is also interested in architecture and is looking forward to the art major’s drawing concentration that will become available next year.
Social media is another art form Woldetensae uses to express and differentiate himself.
“I love Instagram,” Woldetensae said. “You’ll notice most players only post pictures of them playing basketball — it’s their life. For me, basketball is only one part of my life.”
Because of a rigorous practice schedule and full course load, Woldetensae has not had much time to devote to art outside of classes. However, cooking has been a task in which Woldetensae has found comfort.
“I never eat at JPJ because I am so picky,” Woldetensae said.
During most meals, Woldetensae can be found preparing authentic Italian cuisine in his off-Grounds apartment. Woldetensae’s roommate — senior student manager Grant Kersey — appreciates his roommate’s culinary abilities.
“It’s really nice having a roommate that can cook,” Kersey said. “I try to eat his meals as much as I can.”
Woldetensae prides himself in his cooking, although according to Woldetensae, third-year former forward Francesco “Franky” Badocchi is the real chef of the apartment.
Woldetensae shared his pasta recipe with The Cavalier Daily.
Before starting, remember — “the magic isn’t in the pasta but in the sauce,” Woldetensae said. “The important thing is that nothing is measured. Nothing is timed. Nothing is premeditated.”
- Boil and salt the water.
- Immerse pasta until it reaches desired texture.
- Cut cherry tomatoes and place in a pan with garlic and hot pepper flavored oil.
- Salt the tomatoes — this will help get the juice out.
- Add in peas.
- Add in a little water and milk to thicken the sauce.
- Once the sauce is creamy, add pancetta.
- Let it cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Take the mixture off the heat and mix with the strained pasta and add prosciutto.
However, the simple recipe instructions don’t do it justice.
“Explaining the way I cook it is much more interesting than a recipe,” Woldetensae said. “This is where the difference between a great and mediocre chef comes out.”
Woldetensae’s love for cooking Italian food is just one way he copes with being over 4,000 miles from home. Woldetensae is able to return to friends and family every summer, but the future is unpredictable. He may return home to Bologna, Italy or stay in the U.S. It all depends on basketball.
Woldetensae is on the court again Jan. 4 at 2 p.m. when men's basketball takes on Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena to begin a long stretch of conference play.