It took her awhile to get back, but Keani Albanez has returned to the beach that she calls home. In August, Albanez officially became the lead assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at Santa Barbara Community College, making her one of the first female assistant coaches for men’s basketball in the California area.
Albanez, a native to Santa Barbara, played for Gonzaga from 2011 to 2015, but it quite literally wasn’t as far as her basketball career would take her. She played professional basketball overseas for nearly five years, playing primarily in Egypt, but also in China, Greece and Switzerland.
Despite her close proximity to various world wonders during her tenure abroad, Spokane remains Albanez’s favorite place to play away from home.
“Playing at GU was like a once in a lifetime experience and you never really understand it when you’re going through it,” Albanez said. “I miss it so much.”
According to GU women’s basketball head coach, Lisa Fortier, Albanez didn’t often have a bad day on the court. If she did, she always put in the extra work to redeem herself, whether that meant having more drive defensively or staying late after practice to get some extra shots in. She was the kind of player who went down fighting and never quit.
“She was really fun to coach,” Fortier said. “She has tons and tons of energy.”
Albanez attributes a lot of her success to GU. It all started when Fortier recruited her. Once she graduated from GU in 2015, she knew she wasn’t done playing but wasn’t sure she wanted to go to the WNBA. The only other outlet for female players is playing overseas, so that’s what she did.
“I knew that I could evolve more, and I wasn’t at my peak or my highest performance level,” Albanez said. “So I was really excited to get going on that and expand my game and be more versatile again.”
Besides eventually sending her on to a professional career in basketball, GU helped Albanez overcome a learning disability she had been struggling with since she was a kid. GU’s small, personal campus made it easier to find support for her dyslexia; the team and staff were a major part of her success as well.
Up until college, Albanez was constantly in summer school, taking extra classes and meeting with tutors just to reach the bare minimum.
“It was just a horrible experience,” Albanez said. “But Gonzaga totally changed that and now I’m actually going back to get my master’s and I never would have ever thought that in my entire life.”
Not only did she face obstacles with her dyslexia as a kid, but she also ended up sacrificing a lot of her childhood because of the demands of the game. She played for one of the top club basketball teams in Santa Barbara and was ranked No. 1 in the nation as an eighth grader.
She was always working to be the best of the best but considered quitting a couple times when she didn’t live up to her own or other’s expectations. Looking back, she realized how irrational it all was.
Considering her father has been a basketball coach for a club team in Santa Barbara for decades, Albanez first started playing basketball the moment she could walk, and she grew up playing with boys. Now, at 27-years-old, she has found unbounded success — not because she has played at a nationally-ranked college, or because she has played professionally overseas or because she earned a breakthrough coaching job, but because she is constantly doing what brings her joy.
“My goal is just to be happy with what I’m doing and stay passionate for it,” Albanez said. “If it’s coaching, it’s coaching. If it’s training, it’s training. If it’s being a mom, it’s being a mom.”
SBCC Head Coach Devin Engebretsen has now offered Albanez her first opportunity to pursue her burgeoning passion. For the Vaqueros program, Albanez presence brings a swift combination of experience and enthusiasm, as Engebretsen looks to bring an invigorating atmosphere to SBCC.
“I wanted to bring a female in so that some of our guys get a perspective from females and learn about respecting women and being able to take direction from women,” Engebretsen said.
Albanez is in charge of agility, footwork and conditioning, but she is taking her duties to the next level. With COVID-19 still an ongoing threat, Albanez has turned to technology by leading team discussions and posting videos of herself performing a drill for the players to repeat. Apart from the technique of the game, Albanez is also involved with the recruitment process.
“She’s way ahead of a lot of coaches in terms of experience,” Engebretsen said. “She’s so energetic and just really positive. It’s like she has this infectious vibe where you want to be around her all the time… but she’s also demanding… she’s encouraging and fun, but she also knows her craft so well that all of our players get an immense learning curve out of what she’s teaching.”
Engebretsen said there are four general areas in which Albanez will help to improve the SBCC men’s basketball program.
The first is simply helping the players develop their ball skills and game play. Second, her dedication to academics will encourage the players to work hard themselves to receive good grades. Albanez knows what kind of grades and effort it takes to get into a Division I school, and she will set an example for the players looking to transfer with a scholarship opportunity.
The third area Albanez will help to improve involves her desire to give back to the less fortunate, especially in a way that uses her own passion. She has coached at many children’s summer camps and even has her own basketball academy at a nonprofit in Santa Barbara called, Page Youth Center. Her eagerness to help those with fewer opportunities in life will help the SBCC players develop as people.
And fourth, Albanez will be exceptional at recruiting players. She has many connections in the area already, and even more outside of Santa Barbara.
Albanez has only just started coaching at SBCC, but Engebretsen already sees her success and views her as a prominent lead on the team; she is more like a co-head coach than an assistant coach.
“She does her thing,” Engebretsen said. “I don’t have to go over there and oversee it or anything.”
Engebretsen knows that he will only get to work with Albanez for a few years because she is bound to move onto bigger things, but that is part of his goal. He wants to train Albanez to be an excellent coach and send her off to her next adventure. As of now, though, Albanez is content being close to home and making a living doing something she loves.
“I feel like I’ve really come full circle at this moment in my life,” Albanez said. “To really be able to give back, make a living for myself, and do what I love and what I’m really passionate about, I feel like that’s my biggest success. Then, I get to share it with my friends and my family. I feel like that’s just success in itself… To get to here is just… I’m on cloud nine right now.”