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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

UNLV’s latest hire seeks recognition for her work, not her gender

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

Midway through her freshman year at Arizona State, Kreigh Warkentien came to the startling realization she was bored without basketball in her life.

In grade school, she served as a ball girl at UNLV games. In high school, she worked as a team attendant for the Portland Trail Blazers. Even though Warkentien often attended Phoenix Suns or Arizona State games her first year in college, merely sitting in the stands watching wasn't enough for the daughter of a longtime college coach and NBA executive.

"I'd go to the games, and I realized I needed to be doing something. I needed to start working again," Warkentien said by phone. "I called my dad and I was like, 'I need to be doing something. I will work for free when it comes to basketball. Whatever I can do to be a part of a team, I want to do.'"

At the advice of her father, Warkentien contacted Arizona State coach Herb Sendek and began working as a student manager for the Sun Devils, setting up practice, filling water cups and rebounding for the players. The 24-year-old Warkentien rose quickly from there, serving as program coordinator for the Sun Devils the past two years before accepting a job last week as UNLV's new director of basketball operations.

Not many women hold such a job in men's college basketball, though Warkentien's role is definitely not unprecedented. For example, Harvard director of basketball operations Kirsten Green has filled the same role for coach Tommy Amaker at his previous stops at Michigan and Seton Hall.

Warkentien's role at UNLV will be purely administrative, from serving as the program's academic coordinator, to making sure players are in compliance with NCAA rules, to acting as the liaison between the coaching staff and the administration. New UNLV coach Dave Rice said Warkentien's gender never entered his mind as he was considering potential hires because she was simply the most qualified candidate for the job.

"I hired the person I thought was going to do the best job in the role," Rice said by phone. "The fact that it is a hire that adds diversity to our staff is a positive, but I think first and foremost, I want to concentrate on the fact that she's going to be a really committed and do a great job. That's based on having known her for almost her entire life and the fact that she did a really good job for Coach Sendek at Arizona State." {YSP:MORE}

It wasn't difficult for Warkentien to gain Rice's trust when she contacted him about the job because he'd known her for more than two decades. Mark Warkentien, Kreigh's father, was an assistant coach and an administrator at UNLV during Rice's playing days from 1987 to 91 and has served as a mentor to the Rebels coach later in life.

Rice said Kreigh has inherited many qualities from her father, a former NBA executive of the year with the Denver Nuggets who now works as director of player personnel for the New York Knicks.

"Her attention to detail, her intense loyalty, she's really intelligent and she loves basketball," Rice said. "I see all those qualities in her, and they obviously came pretty naturally to her considering who her dad is and what he's accomplished."

Warkentien is proud of what she's accomplished in her brief career, but she goes out of her way to downplay the significance of a woman holding the director of basketball operations title that is traditionally reserved for men. For her, the UNLV job is an opportunity to return to a program she's loved since childhood and to move a little closer to her ultimate goal of one day becoming a college athletic director.

"I've never sat there and said I probably can't do something because I'm a girl," Warkentien said. "I've always tried to work hard and see where that takes me. I do think it's a great step for women, but I don't think I'm any different than any candidate."

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