Every Wednesday, Shannon Kelly will sit down with a coach's wife, a former Wolf Pack athlete or a woman in the Northern Nevada community to have a conversation over a glass of wine (or whatever drink they choose). This week, she sat down with Nevada men's basketball director of operations, Aubrie Warkentien. They talked about her childhood growing up in Las Vegas and Portland, pursuing a career in basketball, moving across the country, the most rewarding part of her job and some of her hobbies and favorite things, among other topics.
Growing up on the hardwood
Basketball has been a part of Aubrie's life since the day she was born. She hasn't looked back since. Her father, Mark, was an assistant coach for Jerry Tarkanian during UNLV's hey day before he became a successful NBA executive, winning executive of the year in 2008-09.
“I was born towards the end of his time at UNLV, but I do slightly remember going to games growing up when I was little," Aubrie said. "But the Thomas & Mack Center is always going to hold a special place in my heart. Just because the year I was born, they won (the national title), which was really cool. My sister and I joke we essentially took our first steps on the Thomas & Mack court growing up. Through my college years, when I went to go work NBA Summer League that’s where I felt like I really grew up, was those summers working the NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center, so anytime I walk into it, it feels like home to me. But I’m looking forward to Lawlor having that same feeling, which it’s starting to so it’s nice.”
Given her father's profession, Aubrie always envisioned a job in basketball.
“I don’t think there was ever a time that I didn’t want to be in this industry," Aubrie said. "My favorite memories growing was going to practice or going with my Dad when he was working for the Trailblazers to the arena with him, three hours before tip-off just kind of sitting there and watching the players warm up. He would every now and then say, 'Aubs, you’re going to watch Rasheed (Wallace), and you’re going to mark anywhere he shoots the ball, if he makes it or misses it we just want to see where he’s at,' or 'You’re going to help me with this.' It’s never been something I didn’t want to be a part of, so I feel very fortunate to be able to continue to do this.”
Making history at Nevada
After spending some time in the G League with the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs affiliates, Aubrie transitioned into the college basketball scene and spent three years at Tulane as their program coordinator. Aubrie’s father has known Steve Alford and Craig Neal for her entire life, dating back to when Alford was playing at Indiana on the team that faced UNLV in the NCAA Tournament Final Four. That connection helped Aubrie land at Nevada.
“I had just moved back to Las Vegas, the whole staff at Tulane we were let go, and I was like, 'I’m not going to stay here. I’m going to try and get closer to home,'" Aubrie said. "I did not have a plan. My mom and I had pretty much just finished our drive from New Orleans to Vegas and probably a week or so being back into Vegas and I got a phone call from my friend, Alex Kline, who is now with the New York Knicks and he said, 'Hey, I’m talking with some of the UNR basketball coaches and I wanted to bring your name up for a position,' and Coach Neal didn’t know we had been let go or where we are at and he said, 'We definitely want to have her come up,' so Coach Neal called me, I came out for a weekend interview and I was here a week later. It was just another thing of right timing for myself, but I think if I was still at Tulane I would have said 'Yes' to the opportunity anyway because it’s a great community and it’s just so nice to be closer to my family.”
Aubrie is the first female director of operations for a men’s program in Wolf Pack history. Her sister, Kreigh, is currently the Chief Administrative Officer for the University of Washington men’s basketball team was the first female director of operations for a men’s program at UNLV where she was named an assistant athletic director for alumni Relations and special events.
“My sister, I don’t ever give her enough credit," Aubrie said. "She is by far my biggest inspiration for everything that I do. Just the way she approaches everything and she just stays very calm. She’s been such a great person for me to learn from and she is one thousand times better at this job than I think I’ll ever be, but she’s great and she’s been nothing but a great support system for me especially transitioning into college athletics.”
Aubrie said she was lucky not only to grow up in a basketball family but also to get advice from her parents to never sell themselves short as a female in a traditional-male profession.
“I grew up very fortunate and I understand that, and I’m also very lucky that my parents, especially my mom, she just always kind of taught my sister and I don’t ever put focus on something that someone is going to see as a flaw" Aubrie said. "You being a female, don’t let that deter you from doing whatever you want to do because you can do whatever you want to do. You’re capable of it, so don’t let you being a female from stopping trying. Don’t put the focus on, 'Well I'm a girl and this is why this is happening,' or 'I’m the girl and I’m not included in with all of the other coaches,' No, I’m going to continue doing my job, I’m going to show you that I’m the right person that you hired for this position and I’m not focused on, 'I’m the girl.'"
So what's the most rewarding part of the job?
“I think for myself, it’s watching someone fulfill their dream," Aubrie said. "At Tulane, I was very lucky to kind of be a part of the experience of Melvin Frazier Jr. He left a year early and got drafted and the following year, I got to go watch him play, I watched him at summer league and it’s just seeing them complete their dream, and watching that kind of come full circle for them is something I don’t even know if I can describe. And we had another player, Cameron Reynolds, he didn’t get drafted, but he worked so hard the last two years, and he did the G-League route and now this last season he was a two-way player with the Milwaukee Bucks.
"Now he’s getting ready to start the season again, and just seeing him succeed, that is just such a great feeling, because I got to know him so well at Tulane, I got to know his family, I also got to watch Cameron graduate, so he got his degree, he’s in the NBA, it’s just such a great feeling to see them go full circle and go as far as they ever thought they would be. Cameron got to play for Team USA the last couple summers and that’s something he never even dreamt he would be able to do, so listening to him and keeping in touch with him it’s been great hearing his story, and they’re both so happy."
"Hopefully we’ll be able to see Jalen (Harris) be able to have that same experience. I’m just trying to keep all my positive thoughts towards Jalen. He is such a hard worker and such a great kid and he deserves nothing but the best.”
Wine Wednesday with Aubrie Warkentien
- Time at home the last few months – 0:00
- Growing up at the Thomas and Mack – 2:08
- Pursuing a career in basketball – 5:30
- Foot in the door with the G League – 8:10
- Moving to New Orleans – 9:15
- Coming to Nevada - 13:36
- Typical day as a Director of Operations –16:18
- Learning from Coach Alford – 22:00
- Best advice about working in basketball – 24:40
- Most rewarding part of the job - 28:40
- Favorite part about growing up in Las Vegas – 33:02
- Aubrie’s hobbies/favorite things – 35:48