January Gains All-Star Recognition

by Tom Rietmann | July 15, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever had a strong feeling about point guard Briann January when the team selected her in the 2009 WNBA Draft.

Indiana liked January's toughness. The Fever felt confident it was drafting a player with the mental and physical resilience needed to perform at the highest level of women's basketball.

“That's why we went after her,” said Fever Coach Lin Dunn, who knew January had a black belt in karate. “She defended at a very high level. She's hard-nosed. She's going to take the charge, going to dive on the floor for loose balls.

“She's pretty much been everything we thought she'd be,” Dunn said recently, “and probably even tougher than we thought she'd be.”

The WNBA has noticed, too. January was selected this week by Eastern Conference coaches as a reserve for the East All-Star team. It will be her first appearance in the game.

PHOTO GALLERY: January's 2014 Season To Date »

The fans previously voted January's teammate, Tamika Catchings, as a starter in the All-Star Game, scheduled for Saturday at US Airways Center in Phoenix.

The trip to Phoenix will take January back to the area where she attended Arizona State University. There will be plenty of family, friends and former teammates on hand.

January grew up in Spokane, Wash., where her father is a karate instructor. The martial arts work that she did with her dad helped set the tone for her basketball career.

“The mental part of martial arts is huge,” January said. “(It's) being able to center yourself and being able to refocus and keep your mind clear in the heat of battle. You can't let other emotions take over. You have to be focused on the task at hand so you can perform.”

January's focus in 2014 has been consistently high. Her performance surged at the start of the season before she suffered a sprained ankle. She soldiered through it, returned to form and is averaging a career-high 11.1 points.

Her 3-point shooting (.426) is tied for fifth in the league, and her free throw mark (.902) is fifth. Her assists average (4.3 per game) is tied for eighth.

“I think she deserves to be an All-Star,” Dunn said. “I think she's been overlooked in the past. I'm excited for her.”

When January looks back on her five-plus seasons in the WNBA, she thinks about the guidance she received from veteran guard Tully Bevilaqua in 2009 and '10. Bevilaqua imparted knowledge of what Dunn expected from her point guards and what it took to be successful in pro basketball.

In 2011, January suffered a knee injury that required season-ending surgery after 10 games. She watched and learned from the bench, gleaning important information that way. In 2012, she returned to assume a major role in pushing the Fever to the WNBA championship.

Last year and this season, she is showing more patience within the offense, letting plays develop before making a pass or allowing herself time to find open shots.

“Every couple of years,” January said, talking about her maturation, “I feel like I've really taken a step, or faced something that made me a better basketball player and a stronger competitor.”

Asked if she could pinpoint a breakthrough season, January chose a team accomplishment rather than a personal one -- 2012's run to the title.

It was January's defense that held Minnesota's Seimone Augustus, an All-Star and an Olympian, to single-digit scoring in Indiana's deciding victories in Games 3 and 4 of the 2012 Finals. Still, the Fever's 5-foot-8 point guard preferred to view a bigger picture.

“Our team came together so much that year,” January said. “Our team defense really got it done. People got injured. People were in and out of rotations. People stepped up every other game, different people came out and won games for us.

“That just kind of raised everybody's level. I just tried to roll with it and be a part of it and do what I could to make our team great. And we got there.”

Now, nearly two years later, January is taking the next step with a position in the All-Star Game.