For Jamison Rusthoven, the Dec. 3 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference men’s basketball game against Bethel was just another game on the Saint Mary’s University schedule.

But in reality, the Cardinals’ conference-opening showdown with the Royals was so much more than just another conference tilt.

When Rusthoven’s Cardinals took to the court at the SMU gym, it marked the first time that an African-American has walked the sidelines as the head men’s basketball coach of an MIAC institution.

And that significance hasn’t escaped Rusthoven, a native of St. Paul, Minn.

“As I look at this significant moment in time for the Minnesota sports community, I think about one person who I know for sure is smiling down on me — and that is the late, great Kwame McDonald,” said Rusthoven. “As a kid who grew up in the Midway neighborhood, playing summer basketball at Dunning Field and attending St. Agnes High School, when we played games against St. Paul Central, Highland Park and at that time Cretin — Kwame was always there.”

Kwame McDonald — the long-time Minnesota civil rights activist who organized community athletic opportunities for young people and was a pioneer in covering women’s sports for local minority newspapers — was a fixture at high school and college events.

McDonald, who died in October of 2011, also wrote about sports for two Minneapolis newspapers: Insight News, and then the Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder, in addition to his community columns for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

“Kwame was, and still is, an icon among community leaders that truly supported and challenged so many of us city kids to be the best we could be,” Rusthoven said. “This significant moment belongs to him, as well as to great people who have had important roles in developing the youth in our community like Jim Robinson, Dick Ghizoni, John Washington and Rene Pulley.

“This is truly a celebration for me, the Minnesota sports community — and especially Saint Mary’s University.”

“When Coach Rusthoven first stepped on our campus, it was clear that he was a great fit for this institution and this league,” said Nikki Fennern, SMU’s director of athletics. “He is a leader at his core — on the basketball court, in the classroom, within the Saint Mary’s community, and in this historic moment for Saint Mary’s and the MIAC.

“Saint Mary’s and the MIAC celebrate this moment in time, while continuing a commitment to serve and represent all populations. I am proud that we have a person such as Coach Rusthoven to be a leader in such a high profile sport as men’s basketball.”

MIAC Executive Director Dan McKane echoed Fennern’s sentiments.

“The MIAC is committed to diversity across everything we do,” McKane said. “Our membership has steadily increased diversity among our student-athletes over the past 15 years. The hiring of Coach Rusthoven is a great step toward diversifying our coaching staff as well.

“Saint Mary’s should be proud of the hire,” added McKane. “Rusthoven brings numerous outstanding qualities to his new position. We’re excited to have him coaching in the MIAC.”

All but three years of Rusthoven’s career have been in coaching Minnesota basketball — with stops that include Osseo and Minneapolis Southwest high schools, and Hamline University.

And for Rusthoven to fill one of only 11 men’s basketball head coaching positions in the MIAC — one of the top leagues in the nation, and in a state known for its basketball — is only fitting.

“I have coached with and against some of the best coaches in Minnesota at all levels — many already in the Minnesota Basketball Hall of Fame,” said Rusthoven. “So to be forever etched into this unique part of Minnesota basketball history is truly an honor.”

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