It was early in the season, and UNLV was playing Cal Poly. Two fans could be heard in conversation during a timeout at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"Hey, who's the chick on the bench?" one fan asked.
"Beats the (expletive) out of me," the other replied.
The "chick" is Kreigh Warkentien, director of basketball operations under first-year Rebels coach Dave Rice. Her job entails myriad responsibilities, such as working with academic advisers, helping with scheduling, overseeing compliance issues within the team and helping conduct youth summer camps.
If her last name sounds familiar to UNLV fans, it should. Her father, Mark, was an assistant coach under Jerry Tarkanian from 1981 to 1987. He now is director of pro player personnel for the New York Knicks and was the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2009 as general manager of the Denver Nuggets.
"It's been fun," said Kreigh Warkentien, 24, one of a handful of women serving on a Division I men's coaching staff. "It's exciting. Every day is a new challenge. When Coach Rice asked me to join his staff, I had no hesitation. I grew up around Runnin' Rebel basketball. It feels like coming home."
Warkentien is the first woman to sit on the Rebels' bench in the program's 54-year history. But Rice says she is well qualified for the non-coaching administrative position.
"I was very happy with the assistant coaches I hired," said Rice, referring to Justin Hutson, Heath Schroyer and Stacey Augmon. "But I thought it was important to bring someone in to be an administrative person and someone who had a passion for the Runnin' Rebels. The fact that she's a Warkentien was an important factor. I talk to our players all the time about the history of this program, and by bringing Kreigh in, we definitely helped bridge the gap between the past and the present.
"She's got a great rapport with everyone connected with the program, from the players and coaches to the professors and administrators on campus."
Last week Warkentien had to deal with an unexpected hurdle when the team's flight to Fort Worth, Texas, was delayed. Guard Kendall Wallace was supposed to take an exam online, but with the Rebels not getting into town until 2 a.m., there was no way he could do it.
Warkentien quickly contacted the professor and rescheduled the exam. It might not sound like a big deal, but academics are critical to Rice, and ensuring a good rapport between his players and their professors is important to him.
Beyond growing up around the game, Warkentien gained valuable experience while a student at Arizona State. She was a manager for coach Herb Sendek, and after graduation in 2009, was promoted to the position of program director.
"Coach Sendek was so organized, and that's the most important thing I learned from him," Warkentien said. "He allowed me to do so many things, it really helped me for this job (at UNLV)."
By hiring a woman, Rice also got something else every staff needs to be successful -- harmony.
Warkentien is not a threat to backstab a colleague to advance her own career. She's not going to be a men's college assistant anytime soon. An NBA executive someday? Perhaps. But Rice's assistants need not worry about being undermined by the young lady with the shoulder-length blond hair who sits directly behind Rice during games, a legal-sized notepad in hand, tracking fouls and timeouts.
"I'm not interested in coaching," she said. "I love what I'm doing, and I'm very happy where I am."
Her father couldn't be prouder.
"She's in a great situation," Mark Warkentien said. "I don't have to worry about her. I'm just happy that she's happy. But I think they're on to something there. The cutting edge is to not hire an X and O guy for that position and let your coaches focus on Xs and Os."
With Kreigh Warkentien's behind-the-scenes efforts helping UNLV build a 23-6 record and No. 21 ranking entering Saturday's home game against Air Force, fans will no longer wonder who the chick is on the Rebels' bench. They just figure she's one of Rice's guys.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.