January's Red-Hot Stretch Grabs AttentionTweet
By Tom Rietmann | June 3, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS -- Briann January's first five years in an Indiana Fever uniform reflected a low-key but steady drumbeat of statistical improvement and progress as a team leader.
So far in 2014, January is ratcheting up that production to stunning levels.
January's sixth season as a pro displays the early earmarks of a breakout campaign, the kind that typically catapults young players into the WNBA All-Star Game. Indiana Coach Lin Dunn definitely wants to see the Fever's 27-year-old point guard in Phoenix for the July 19 All-Star Game.
“Absolutely,” Dunn said after a practice this week at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “There's not any doubt in my mind that Bri and (Fever center) Erlana Larkins are legitimate candidates right now to be on the All-Star team. No doubt about it.”
Others around the league are taking notice of January, too. She was selected Monday as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after turning in splendid performances in the past two games for Indiana.
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January's statistics stood out like blinking lights on a marquee. She scored 20 points in each outing -- victories over Connecticut and New York -- while hitting a total of 7-of-7 3-pointers and 11-of-18 field goals overall. She also accounted for nine assists and six steals with just three turnovers.
January sometimes slides to the shooting guard position while Layshia Clarendon or Sydney Carter handles the point. That way, the Fever can reap the benefits of January's upgraded shooting even more in the absence of injured standout Tamika Catchings. January leads the team with a 15.8 scoring average.
Shavonte Zellous, January's running mate at guard, enjoyed a top-notch year in 2013 and broke through to make the All-Star team. She's hoping for the same for January.
“The way Bri is playing right now, hands down, she deserves it,” Zellous said. “She's shooting the ball extremely well. She's playing defense extremely well. She's pretty much doing it all.”
January, a blur on the court when she's operating at full throttle, has twice made the WNBA's All-Defensive Team (2012 and 2013). Her offense, game management and on-court efficiency have made incremental advancements since her arrival in Indiana as the draft's sixth overall pick in 2009.
This season, she arrived at the Fever training camp in good health and robust spirits following an abbreviated stint of playing in the Brazilian League. Her shoulder felt good, unlike 2013 when she battled a rotator cuff injury much of the WNBA season.
And January's jump shot looked sweet, as evidenced by her current WNBA-leading .714 mark (15-of-21) from the 3-point line.
Dunn views January's offensive improvement as an extension of how she has adapted to pace of play. Dunn, like many coaches, can be tough on point guards while they learn. She's been tough on January.
“(January) understands that I don't want her to be just good; I want her to be great,” Dunn said. “I'm going to push her and demand that she gets better all the time.”
January takes it all in. And she grows from it.
“I've learned so much from being here with Lin and playing under Steph (White, the Fever's associate head coach),” January said. “From my rookie season to now, the game has just slowed down tremendously. I understand the way it works better. I understand the flow. I understand just the ins and outs. It makes it easier to be successful when you have a nice hold on the game.
“I pride myself on trying to make it work for (Dunn), to kind of put her vision to work on the court. I'm still not there, and still not perfect by any means. It's a work in progress.”
January remains a team-first player. She is always reluctant to discuss personal accomplishments ahead of whatever the Fever team is achieving on the court. Indiana (3-3) is currently riding the crest of a three-game winning streak, but begins a six-game stretch this weekend that includes five on the road.
“As a leader on this team, I want our team to be as successful as possible,” January said. “And I know we're not playing our best basketball yet. I know I shouldn't expect that, but I know I can do better and our team can do better. We're working every day to get there. So, no, I'm not satisfied yet. There's definitely a lot more that can be put in.”
As for the possibility of making the Eastern Conference All-Stars, January will let that unfold without her attention being directed that way. Fans will select the All-Star starters and league coaches will pick the reserves.
“To be mentioned alongside the best in the league would definitely be an honor, but that's not really the focus,” said January, who played collegiate basketball at Arizona State in the Phoenix area. “If our team is successful and that happens, then so be it. But our team's success is No. 1 on the list.”
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