Keani Albanez is determined to make it in the man’s world of basketball.
Albanez, who took her own game from the playground of Adams Elementary School to the professional arenas of three continents, is blazing a trail as the first female ever hired as the top assistant coach for SBCC men’s basketball.
“Being able to come full circle, that is truly the biggest reward,” she said.
She was hired by Devin Engebretsen, who recently took over as head coach after having served as Morris Hodges’ associate head coach.
“She’s an awesome communicator and really good at being able to speak to our players,” Engebretsen said. “She understands their mindset as a former college player at an elite level.
“I think she’ll be able to motivate our guys to do great things. She’s going to be tremendous at skill development.
Albanez learned the game from her father, George Albanez, who has coached the 805 Club basketball team for the last quarter-century.
“I grew up playing for his boys teams,” she pointed out. “I actually didn’t start playing with girls until I got to middle school. There just wasn’t that many opportunities for me at the time.
“Growing up, because my love for the game was so strong, I’ve always been ‘one of the boys’… I still play pick-up to this day with all men. It’s just how I was raised.”
Albanez grew up in Santa Barbara but moved to Ventura County at the start of high school. She led Buena High to the CIF-Southern Section 2AA championship as well as to the Division 2 State Regional finals. She earned All-CIF Division III honors after averaging 21.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.9 steals.
She also helped Gonzaga University win four-straight West Coast Conference championships and lead it as far as the NCAA Elite 8. Gonzaga’s cumulative win-loss record during her four seasons was 110-25.
“It’s not often that we have assistant coaches in any sport who can say they were a highly successful Division I athlete at a major college with experience as a professional, too,” SBCC director of athletics Rocco Constantino said. “She’s excited and ready to go, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new direction with our men’s basketball program.”
Her professional career included stints in China, Greece, Switzerland and Egypt.
“I learned how to adapt, to have an open mind, to get out of my comfort zone and try new things,” Albanez said. “I traveled a lot and made a lot of great relationships, but I truly learned the most about myself.
“Being away from friends and family for five years, not including college, is hard. But it 100% shaped me into the person I am today.”
Engebretsen said Albanez’s enthusiasm for basketball will become contagious for SBCC’s players.
“She really cares about people and the development of our young men as students and players,” he said. “Her knowledge of the game is key, being a former elite NCAA Division 1 athlete and playing overseas.
“She’s been coached by a lot of different people, so she has a wealth of knowledge to bring to our program.”
Albanez, who is about to turn 27, returned to Santa Barbara several years ago to work as a personal trainer. She also started the KA Basketball Academy for boys and girls at the Page Youth Center in 2015, and has served as the lone female coach at several elite high school boys camps.
“I’m not really looking at the male vs. female dynamic because Keani is so well-educated in basketball and her experience is tremendous,” Engebretsen said. “I really believe that our young men will thrive under her coaching and tutelage both on the floor and in the classroom.
“And she’ll also be a leader in the community, helping our guys give back to the youth of Santa Barbara.”
Constantino, who coached women in two sports before coming to SBCC, is glad to see the basketball shoe on the other foot.
“We see male coaches coaching female sports all the time,” he said. “Why shouldn’t women be able to coach men, too, if they have the ability?”
Lindsay Gottlieb, former head coach of the UCSB women’s basketball team, was hired last summer as an assistant coach for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start of women’s basketball practice at SBCC until Jan. 18.
“I’m sure it will be challenging at times, just like it will be for any head assistant coach during COVID, but not because they are men,” Albanez said of her new endeavor. “The ball goes into the hoop just the same.”