May 27, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Five years ago, Katherine “Kat” Vosters was sitting in the very same office at the Kohl Center, but she was on the opposite side of the desk; she was interviewing with Luke Wainwright to be a manager for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
“It’s really a dream come true right now,” she said Friday, “that I’m sitting at this desk – in this office – where I had my first interview as a manager. It’s really cool coming full circle like that. I’m excited for what can come of it and how I can help the program.”
After four years as a manager, and one as a program assistant, Vosters has taken over as the director of basketball operations on head coach Bo Ryan’s staff. She’s replacing a friend and mentor, Wainwright, who’s moving on to pursue opportunities in coaching, teaching and administration.
“I think I’m as ready as I can be,” Vosters said.
And she credited Wainwright for preparing her.
“I’m going to take everything I learned from him,” she said of tapping into such a valuable resource. “Luke was so organized and so detailed and he stayed calm even when you may not necessarily feel calm. He kept his cool in very tough situations. That’s something I hope to carry on.
“I really studied this position… For the past five years, I’ve asked as many questions as possible. I’ve been in as many different situations and I’ve done as many tasks and I’ve been in as many roles as possible so I could get an idea of all these different parts of the job.”
From the time that Wainwright took over – after serving his apprenticeship as a manager, a head manager and a program assistant – he had his sights on becoming a coach even though he conceded “my job description is 180-degrees opposite of coaching” as the director of operations.
Wainwright was of the same mindset as Saul Phillips, Will Ryan and Duffy Conroy. Each used the job as a stepping stone to get into the coaching profession. Phillips is now the head coach at Ohio University, where Ryan is one of his assistants. Conroy is an assistant to Rob Jeter at Milwaukee.
While taking his formative steps as the director of basketball operations, Wainwright relied heavily on his past experiences and training as a manager from the standpoint of “getting a feel for the job priorities and how coach Ryan wants the program to be run.”
The latter point is huge.
“If the coaches don’t have to think about the things I’m doing,” Wainwright said of his personal mission statement, “because I’m on top of it and mistakes aren’t being made, then the work I do is truly making it easier for them to do what they do.”
Coaches want to coach. That’s what they want to do.
|“I don’t think being male or female changes the job. Over the years, I’ve tried as hard as I can to be looked at – and treated the same way – as all of the guys. I just wanted to be a part of the group.”
“I’m not surprised that they chose someone from within because you have to know the coaches to do this job right,” Vosters said. “Besides the actual job responsibilities – the planning, the budget, the travel, the class schedules, the meetings, and all of that – it’s almost like being a personal assistant.”
Amplifying on this theme, she said, “It’s about having all the answers about the program. It’s being the go-to person whether it’s for the coaches, the players or the administration. I’ve got to have all the answers for every question and aspect whether it’s academic services or sports medicine.”
From a logistical perspective, getting the team from Point A to Point B, Wainwright had check lists for check lists. “I had a check list for the hotel,” he said. “I had a check list if it’s a flight or a bus trip, a check list for pre-travel, a check list for post-travel, and a check list for the travel contacts.”
That should give you an idea of the scope of the job. “When I came here as a manager, I didn’t think it was an attainable goal,” Vosters said. “I didn’t know anything about the position; I didn’t have any clue that there was going to be an opportunity to get involved.”
But she never stopped asking questions or learning.
“I took it upon myself,” she said, “to put myself in the best position for a job like this.”
• • • •
It was in middle school that a friend started referring to Katherine as “Kat” and it has stuck for all these years, except around her family. “My mom hates it,” she said, laughing. By any name, she was raised on a diet of UW sports. “We’re huge Badger fans,” she said. “I’ve been a Badger for life.”
Vosters played basketball through her sophomore year at Verona High School, when she decided to quit the sport. In retrospect, she said, “I honestly wish I could go back and play now after being around coach Ryan and learning so much about the game over these past five years.”
Wainwright also went to Verona. Although he’s a few years older than Vosters, they had mutual friends. Wainwright went on to play two years of basketball at Madison Edgewood College before transferring to Wisconsin, where he would get his undergraduate degree in history.
As a UW freshman, Vosters took some business classes with the thought of getting into real estate management but she quickly veered into communications and liked it. Along with a journalism and communication arts degree, she has a certificate in gender and women’s studies.
When asked about the uniqueness of a female in her position, Vosters said that she was aware of only a couple of women who are currently working as the director of basketball operations for a men’s program. One is Kreigh Warkentien at UNLV. The other is Megan Centers at Bowling Green.
“I don’t think being male or female changes the job,” said the 24-year-old Vosters, who has been driven to be reliable in every work capacity. “Over the years, I’ve tried as hard as I can to be looked at – and treated the same way – as all of the guys. I just wanted to be a part of the group.”
Last spring, Vosters reached a cross-road after finishing her final semester of school. “I knew that I wanted to stay in athletics,” she said. “I love administration and I love feeling like I’m part of a team. But I sent out my resume and I got to a point where I was kind of ready to move on.”
Shortly after the Badgers were eliminated in the first round of the 2013 NCAA tournament by Mississippi, Vosters went to Ryan for advice. “We had a good conversation,” she said. “It ended up being, ‘Keep me in mind in the future if anything becomes available; I’d love to stay on.’”
In the interim, Vosters actually took a job with an on-line advertising company in Scottsdale, Ariz. She even made arrangements to rent an apartment in the Phoenix area. The company offered four different starting dates: June, July, August and September. She chose the last possible month to begin.
“I was kind of hoping something would come up here (with the UW),” she said. “Obviously, I knew things had to fall into place the right way. But I wanted to give myself that time to really look into all of my options. On paper, I was all set to move. In my mind, I knew it wasn’t for me.”
Vosters caught a break when video coordinator Joe Krabbenhoft accepted a coaching job at South Dakota State. Ryan promoted from within by replacing Krabbenhoft with A.J. Van Handel who had been the program assistant. And that created an opening for Vosters to stay on. Ryan had remembered.
“I’m glad we had that conversation,” she said.
And, of course, she was even happier for the most recent conversation that she had with Ryan during the interviewing process to fill Wainwright’s role as director of basketball operations. In sum, she convinced Ryan that she was ready to take on the new responsibilities.
“I know I’m ready for the position,” she assured him.
Ryan knew the same thing.
“I’m really excited, it’s an awesome opportunity,” Vosters said Friday afternoon from her new office at the Kohl Center. “I don’t see any changes within the program; things will go on as they’ve always gone. I’ve got to keep Coach happy; I’ve got to keep things running smoothly. That’s my job.”