January gears up for camp

By Tom Rietmann | April 20, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- Briann January knew she would be facing a difficult trial after she suffered a season-ending knee injury last summer. She braced for the challenge of surgery and rehabilitation. She met it head-on and flourished.

Need an indication of how hard the Indiana Fever's 25-year-old guard has rehabbed? Before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, she had a vertical leap of 23 inches. Now, after nine months of nearly daily sweat and toil, that vertical has actually improved to 26 inches.

“She's as strong as she's ever been,” Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's chief operating officer and general manager, said about January. “Anytime you come off an ACL tear and you increase your vertical jump by 3 inches, it's thrilling to hear. That's hard to do just in general. Her next transition will be getting in basketball shape.”

Krauskopf smiled. “We're very optimistic she's going to be ready to go and be Bri -- but be 3-inches-higher Bri.” the Fever GM said.

The Indiana team will open its 2012 training camp on April 29. It's safe to say January will awaken early that day and be one of the first players in the door. She's eager to get started, ready to be the same floor leader she's always been and looking forward to trading picks and screens again with her teammates.

“I'm feeling a lot stronger, more explosive,” January said recently after a workout at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I've had time to fine-tune a lot of things and pay attention to detail. And those little details make a difference.”

January and her team were enjoying a strong start to the 2011 season when the injury occurred on June 28 against Phoenix. She had produced 41 assists and only 17 turnovers over a seven-game span. After defeating Phoenix that night, Indiana was 7-3 and would go on to a 21-13 record and an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals.

But January's every-day life changed dramatically after the injury. Dr. Stephen Kollias, the team's orthopedist, performed the surgery in late July. As January's strenuous rehab began, she stayed involved with the team by helping on scouting reports, but there were low days that could test the patience and resolve of even the most enthusiastic athletes.

January talked often to teammates Tamika Catchings and Erin Phillips, who underwent similar knee procedures. She also looked for guidance from her best friend, Dymond Simon, who had played with January at Arizona State and suffered two ACL injuries. And she visited with the Fever's team psychologist, Dr. Chris Carr.

“I met with him regularly, voicing my fears, my doubts, my concerns,” January said. “I was able to change my perspective, which helped a lot. When you're looking at the big picture in a situation like that, it's overwhelming. It's a lot to carry with you on the road to recovery.”

Traveling that road, January discovered that she occasionally had to let up on the accelerator pedal.

“The hardest thing was listening to my body,” she said. “As I was getting closer to getting cleared, I'd go out there and hit it hard. That was pretty much the hardest part, just staying within my limits and not pushing it too hard and just listening to my body and slowly progressing.”

Now she is cranking it up, with the medical staff's blessings. Catchings, who like January didn't play overseas this past winter, has been a regular workout partner. Recently, Fever teammates Shyra Ely and Shannon Bobbitt have joined in. Indiana assistant coach Stephanie White works with the players.

“(January) looked awfully good to me,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said after watching a recent workout at the Fieldhouse. “She's fully recovered physically. It's just getting her cardio back into game shape.”

And when January plays, she will not be encumbered by a knee brace. She insists on not wearing one.

“It would make me think about it and that's the last thing I want,” she said. “Plus, I feel strong and I feel stable. Where my knee is now, there is no doubting anything.”

January is antsy to get training camp started. The Fever has its core players returning but will open 2012 with a slightly different look. Catchings, last season's league MVP, is expected to play extensively at power forward rather than small forward, adding to the team's rebounding strength. Also, center Jessica Davenport and wing Shavonte Zellous both are coming off impressive seasons overseas.

“I'm really excited about (the year),” January said. “I think our balance is going to be great. It's going to give us a really good look having Catch at the four (power forward). … We're going to be very used to it. And Catch will be very comfortable in that position. So we'll be able to flow off of her.

“Everybody is still hungry on our team,” January added about the Fever's recent desires to win a WNBA title. “We keep tasting it, but we have to get there. We know what we want. We know what our goals are.”