January no longer a rookie
In her first professional playoff game against the Washington Mystics, Briann January played pretty darn good.
No, good isn't strong enough, she was great. Her stat line read like this off the bench: 19 minutes, 16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and she hit all eight free throw attempts.
Was anyone surprised?
"I wasn't surprised at all," said Fever coach Lin Dunn. "Not only was she darn good but I think what really set the tone for her was that she was 8-for-8 from the free throw line in crunch time. That shows you that not only was she able to play at a high level, but she was able to hit her free throws under pressure and that's really special for a rookie."
If you've witnessed January's progression throughout the season you'll notice that she's always had a swagger about her. An attitude that says while she was a rookie and willing to learn, she also knew she was worth the Fever's No. 1 draft pick.
Dunn wanted to keep that confidence high and give her rookie early experience so she started her in all three preseason games. It worked. January averaged seven points, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game through the regular season, including a season high 17 points against Detroit last month.
"It's been a huge learning process for me just taking everything in and finding a role for myself on this team," said the former Arizona State Sun Devil. "I've learned my role is to pace the ball, be a defender, get the ball to the great scorers we have on the team, take care of the ball and put pressure on the defense and make them respect our team."
Though January says she's still trying to earn the respect of other WNBA players, she's already received it from her teammates and coaches.
"She's done a great job coming in and being open to learning," said guard Tamecka Dixon. "She also had a great work ethic and she's just continued getting better and better."
Dunn adds that while January is a powerful, explosive player, "It's not only her ability to push the tempo and break down defenses with her penetration, but she can shoot the ball," she said. "She's a very versatile point guard."
January's first pro season hasn't been full of roses. She's dealt with hamstring and ankle injuries, and at one point forgot that her speed was one her greatest assets said fellow point guard Tully Bevilaqua, though she quickly recovered.
"This has been new to me because you're going against the best players in the world every night," January said. "It's tough adjusting, learning the game especially as a point guard and needing to make quick decisions. The fatigue factor has come into play by going 100 percent for a full year. I'm trying to push through that and show some toughness."
This late in the season and as great January has play throughout, it's fair to say that she's no longer considered a rookie. Dunn says that her ability to push the ball has won games for the Fever and Bevilaqua says her energy is unmatched.
"When she comes on the court she raises it up in terms of tempo and energy, and there is no let up," she said.
It's no secret that January is the Fever's point guard of the future. Dixon could retire soon and, at 38, Bevilaqua's playing days are limited. Before they leave, both have fed January with so much knowledge she says it would take 24 hours to tell it all.
Dunn is excited about her point guard and grateful that she's learning from two of the best.
"This has been a transition year and I wouldn't be surprised next year if (Briann) is the starting point guard and Tully is her back up," she said.