Mutual respect at point guard

By Tom Rietmann | July 26, 2010

They are separated by 15 years in age and nearly 300 games of WNBA experience. And the contrasts, in basketball and background, don't end there. Tully Bevilaqua, 38, developed into a standout on the faraway courts of Australia, her native country. Briann January, 23, acquired her early floor burns during a decorated career at her Spokane (Wash.) high school and at Arizona State University.

Differences abound. But the two Indiana Fever point guards have one thing in common. It's a deep and abiding respect for each other.

“We're a tag team,” January said. “We're both the type who leave our hearts out on the court and give everything we have. That brings us together.”

And it has helped to bring the Fever together. January, in her new role as the starter at point guard, collected career highs of 19 points and eight assists last Saturday as the Fever captured an important victory against the Washington Mystics. Bevilaqua, who had started 17 consecutive games, encouraged and advised January from the bench and later came in to score seven points, including a big 3-pointer to stunt a Washington rally.

The student has assumed the starting role from the mentor. But because of the strong relationship between them, the shift has been seamless for the first-place Fever (15-7), who meet Chicago in an Eastern Conference game Tuesday at Conseco Fieldhouse.

“I like knowing I have both of them,” coach Lin Dunn said. “They complement each other so well. Tully is so unselfish and so adaptable to any role. She's going to do whatever we need her to do.”
Indeed, she has. The 12th-year veteran started working with January in 2009 after the Fever drafted her in the first round. She saw January's offensive strengths, the nifty way she operated on pick-and-rolls and her knack for getting to the basket. And she noticed January's quickness and defensive ability, something Bevilaqua thrived on, too.

“I knew at the time I was kind of helping this player come through to be the future of the club,” Bevilaqua said. “It's been a fun journey with Bri. She listens and she will take in the advice you do give. When you have somebody like that, it makes you more willing to spend more time to work with them.”

At some point, Bevilaqua hopes to go into radio and television broadcasting. She thought for a while that this might be her final season as a player. Now, however, she views her work with the Fever as unfinished.

“I'm going to put my hand up for another season,” she said. “I feel I still have more to offer. I feel very capable of competing at this level.”

That would be good news for January, who thinks she still has plenty to learn from Bevilaqua. They talk constantly in practice sessions. Mostly, it's about basketball. Occasionally, they're just sharing a few laughs.

Afterward, they often talk about their love of music. “Oldies, some rock. We have that in common,” January said.

“Honestly, I can say I would not be playing at the level I am without her,” January continued about Bevilaqua. “From day one, she took me under her wing. She was there for me, she was in my ear, she was always supporting me.

“Last year was tough, making rookie mistakes all over the place. One thing that helped me keep it together was her supporting me.”

A year ago, January's 10.6-point average off the bench played a huge role as Indiana advanced to the WNBA Finals. A knee injury early this season set her back, but she is at full speed again and has scored in double digits in four of the past six games.

“I learned a ton from making it to the Finals last year, making it all the way through the playoffs,” January said. “I took in so much and learned a lot. That's the mentality I've tried to bring to every game this year, just that playoff mentality and playoff focus.”

Bevilaqua played a part in helping January acquire that kind of attitude.

“She's amazing,” January said. “I'm so glad I've been on a team with her.”