By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Fever missed Briann January's enthusiasm and bounce at Friday's practice.
As the Fever conducted drills in the Conseco Fieldhouse practice facility, January, her right knee wrapped and iced, sat in the corner and stretched lightly. The 2011 WNBA season is over for Indiana's third-year point guard. She suffered a torn ligament in last Tuesday's victory over Phoenix and will undergo surgery in a few weeks.
“We love her energy, her effort, her defense,” coach Lin Dunn said about January. “She was just making such great strides in year three. But she'll be back. A year from now, she'll be back.”
The Fever, atop the Eastern Conference at 7-3, will look to Shannon Bobbitt and Erin Phillips to run the offense in January's absence. Already, January is doling out tips to her successors. And Dunn will utilize the injured guard as an extra coach in team meetings and on the bench during games.
“Bri was the first one out there for warmups and the last one to come in,” Dunn said. “She just loves to play. I think she's going to go through an adjustment period there. But we're going to keep her engaged.”
January, averaging 8.6 points and 5.0 assists, knows that not playing will be a difficult test. Talking to reporters after Friday's practice, she said hearing of the severity of her injury was “kind of devastating.”
“Getting that starting role, (seeing) our team on a roll, being a part of something special, and then being taken away from the game I love … it kind of hit real hard,” January said.
“It's the biggest injury I've had to face,” she added. “It's a little scary in that aspect.”
January is receiving help dealing with her first serious injury from Fever standout Tamika Catchings, who has experienced similar rough patches. A knee injury sidelined Catchings for all of her rookie season in 2001. She played in only 21 games in 2007 because of a foot injury.
“It's a journey,” Catchings said, relating what she told January about the comeback process. “Bri is a strong-minded, strong-willed person. It's something a lot of people in the league have gone through. She'll be fine.”
The Fever have won four consecutive games and will play their next four at home, starting with Tuesday' matchup with 2010 WNBA champion Seattle. Which point guard will start, Bobbitt or Phillips, is uncertain. Bobbitt has averaged 2.0 points and 1.4 assists in 9 ½ minutes a game. Phillips is at 4.3 points and 1.4 assists in 13 minutes a game.
Both have played previously in the WNBA. Bobbitt also was part of two national championship-winning teams at the University of Tennessee. Phillips played for the Australian Olympic team.
“They know our system, they know our plays,” Dunn said. “They're both going to play. They both can defend at a high level. It's just a matter of them feeling comfortable and confident.”
Bobbitt, at 5-2, gets the job done with quickness.
“I feel I'm still going to do the same things that I have, bringing energy, making sure everybody is positive and focused on one thing. That's winning the (WNBA) championship,” Bobbitt said.
Phillips said daily practices against January elevated her game as a reserve. As a possible starter, she hopes to provide the same kind of positive force that January did.
“If I can pick up where she left off, that will be great,” Phillips said.
Also, Catchings and Katie Douglas will play bigger roles from their wing positions in getting the team into its offense. Douglas, an 11th-year WNBA veteran who is enjoying the best season of her career, can operate as a point guard. Against Phoenix, she played the final five minutes at the position, and she could finish future games there.
“We've already talked about it,” said Douglas, who is averaging 17.3 points and hitting 50 percent from the 3-point arc (27-of-54). “But I don't think it's a good fit for me to do that all game. It wouldn't play to my strengths.
“I feel comfortable with (playing some point guard). I feel comfortable with whatever is asked of me. I'm just going to try to step up my game even more and try to fill this void.”