This WNBA season has been one of substantial change for Indiana Fever point guard Briann January.
Accustomed to dishing assists to the likes of 30-somethings Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, the six-year veteran finds herself surrounded by talented newcomers such as 6-foot-3 rookie forward Natasha Howard and 6-1 swing Marissa Coleman.
Douglas in March was signed by Connecticut, the franchise she broke in with in 2001; Catchings hasn’t played in any of the 13 games so far this season due to a sore back.
Provided every opportunity to be mired in a slump, January has thrived.
She leads the Fever in scoring (12.0), assists (4.8), 3-pointers made (16) and free throw percentage (.857) and is second in steals (1.6).
Potential WNBA All-Star numbers, to be sure. However, January isn’t consciously lobbying to be part of the annual summer showcase, scheduled for July 19 in Phoenix.
“There’s been so much going on with all the new people on our team that it’s not been a focus of mine at all. I just really try to step up for my team and fill the pieces that we need filled in,” January said.
“We’re trying to get wins. It’s a great honor if I was to be selected, but we’re looking for a championship.”
January’s durability is another major factor in Indiana’s 6-7 start.
The 5-8 guard endured an ankle sprain during practice June 2. January sat out her team’s 64-61 victory at Washington four days
later, but was back in the starting lineup June 7 for a game at Connecticut.
Indiana coach Lin Dunn said January was playing at an All-Star level prior to the sprain.
“Bri was really, really playing at a high level. To be honest, I think the ankle was worse than she let on. She’s tried to play through it, but it’s affected her rhythm with her shooting. She’s still getting good looks, but she’s not knocking them down quite like she was,” Dunn said.
“We just have to be patient with her and know that it’s going to take some time. Most people with the ankle sprain she had would’ve just not done anything for two weeks. They probably would have been in a boot, and a couple of days later she’s trying to play.”
January since the injury saw her numbers slip with a 5.2 scoring average in her first four games. She’s since bounced back with a 16-point effort in a loss at Minnesota on June 22 and 11 more in the Fever’s 107-102 overtime loss to Tulsa at home Wednesday night.
Prior to the sprain January had put together a five-game stretch where she tallied 20 points on three occasions, drained 14 of 19 3-point attempts and averaged five assists. Impressive considering six of the current roster’s 12 players weren’t on the team last season.
“We are in constant growth as a team. It’s so new and it’s so different for a lot of us who have been here before. We’ve been a very veteran-laden team, and it’s the little things that you kind of take for granted when you have the Tammy Sutton-Browns or the Katie Douglases. It’s just been constant teaching and constant reviewing,” January said.
“The thing about this team is everyone is willing to learn, and I’m really happy with where we are and how we’ve progressed thus far. We’ve shown progress every game. That’s all you can ask for.”
January has also had to cope with the absence of best friend Jessica Davenport, the Fever’s former backup center who, over the winter, decided to retire from the WNBA.
“My buddy. I miss her so much. (Devenport) is from Ohio and lives there, so she’s come over to visit me a few times. But it’s been tough. She brought me balance on the court. When I was going up and down that was one person I could go to and get centered again. She was always there for me,” January said.
“But my teammates have been awesome this year. You can probably tell we’re just a really tight-knit group.”
Those within the Fever organization will be thrilled if January must soon book a flight to Phoenix in order to take part in what would be her first WNBA All-Star Game.
This includes Dunn, who from her front-row chair sees past the statistical data to observe the bigger picture.
“I still think Bri having an All-Star season. She’s certainly deserving. She and (Erlana) Larkins should definitely be All-Stars. If they’re not elected by the fans they need to be elected by the coaches,” Dunn said.
“It’s very disruptive when you have more new people than you do old people, and this is the first year we’ve had that happen in a long time. We kept our seven, eight, nine and maybe even 10 people the same for four or five years. Bri understands that process. She’s been here long enough to know it takes time.”