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Gonzaga Women's Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga women

Former Gonzaga player Keani Albanez hired as assistant for Santa Barbara City College men’s team

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 8, 2020

Basketball helped Santa Barbara native Keani Albanez see a lot of the U.S. and the world.

Now the sport has brought the former Gonzaga women’s basketball player back home. Not to play hoops, but to coach. She’s been hired as an assistant coach for the Santa Barbara City College men’s team, adding her name to an extremely short list of women coaching for a men’s college basketball program.

“It’s come full circle,” the upbeat Albanez said in a phone interview. “It’s the best thing ever. I was always waiting for a reason to stay at home and the opportunity presented itself.”

Albanez has played professionally in China, Greece, Switzerland, Germany and most recently Egypt since her Gonzaga career (2012-15) ended with a second-team All-WCC selection as a senior. She returned to Santa Barbara when her pro seasons finished, usually for a month or two before flying back overseas, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her season in Egypt last spring.

Albanez delayed her trip home to California attempting to secure money she’d earned playing for the team. She was mostly successful in that endeavor. She declined months later when the Egyptian team asked her to return to complete the season at a lower pay scale.

“I was sad,” said Albanez, who turned 27 on Wednesday. “They wanted me back to finish the season because we were in three different playoff championships but at that point it would only be for a month and they didn’t want to pay full salary.”

Albanez has trained athletes for years in the Santa Barbara area – she started the KA Academy in 2015 and helped at Kobe Bryant’s Mamba/Sports Academy. Knowing her pro career was on hold at least temporarily, she applied for an assistant coaching position with the UC-Santa Barbara women’s team.

Instead, she got a call from new Santa Barbara City College men’s coach Devin Engebretsen, who knew about Albanez’s playing career and plays golf with Albanez’s godfather, Adam Sjovold.

“With COVID, going back to Egypt was pretty murky so I asked Adam if she was thinking about coaching,” Engebretsen said. “I said, ‘Do you think she would coach men?’ He said, ‘Give her a call.’

“I didn’t know her before, but just talking to her on the phone was a revelation with how positive she is, enthusiastic, incredible player and very knowledgeable. She was my top recruit.”

Albanez was hired as the top assistant. Albanez and Engebretsen have zero hesitation about her ability to handle the job. Albanez grew up playing with and against boys. Her dad, George, founded the 805 club basketball program for boys in 1996 that eventually became girls only in 2009.

“Bringing in someone with Keani’s accolades in basketball, I don’t think they’re looking at it as being coached by a woman,” Engebretsen said. “It’s, ‘I’m getting coached by someone who had a Division I scholarship and played in the NCAA Tournament.’ She’s already making inroads with the guys.”

“The biggest hesitation wasn’t (coaching) boys or girls but do I choose coaching over playing?” Albanez said. “That’s the biggest thing, because it’s never easy to stop playing.”

Albanez hasn’t totally closed the door on professional basketball, but she’s full throttle on helping turn around an SBCC program that has struggled for years. The Vaqueros are 10-92 over the last five seasons and have endured 13 consecutive losing seasons.

It’s quite a contrast to Albanez’s career at Gonzaga, which won four WCC regular-season championships, three WCC Tournament titles and played in four NCAA Tournaments. She was recruited by Kelly Graves and played her senior season for Lisa Fortier, who was hired as head coach when Graves went to Oregon.

The Vaqueros’ season has been pushed back by COVID-19. They will probably begin practicing in January. The team conditions on the track and in the weight room and Albanez sends video drills/workouts to the players.

“With J.C. kids they’re really trying to find themselves,” said Albanez, who averaged 12.3 points and shot 54.7 percent in eight NCAA Tournament games. “I want to give them my time and attention and be patient to motivate and not discourage them.”

{span}”Keani can teach, she’s a great communicator,” Engebretsen said. “She’s going to be an awesome coach.”{/span}

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