Briann January was a starter for the first game of her rookie season in the WNBA and on the bench by the third game but the former Lewis and Clark star couldn’t be happier.
“I was caught a little off guard when I saw my name on the board for the starters,” January recalled of her professional debut for Indiana on June 6. “Earlier in the day coach (Lin Dunn) came up to me and said, ‘You know you’re starting.’ I thought she was joking.”
Dunn wasn’t and January started along side four veteran teammates, contributing 10 points and five assists in 39 minutes of a one-point, double-overtime loss at Atlanta.
The Fever dropped their next game at home by 20 points (January scoring five points with five turnovers) before Dunn moved 11-year veteran Tully Bevilaqua into the starting lineup.
Since then Indiana has gone 19-3 and in the most recent win, 82-59 over defending WNBA champion Detroit, January sparked a second-quarter rally en route to a career-high 17 points.
“Since I’ve gotten here Lin has shown so much confidence in me and (starting) helped me a ton,” January said in a telephone interview last week. “It turned out I might not have been quite ready, but she still shows that confidence in me, which is great.”
Dunn told The Indianapolis Star, “I think you’re starting to see January develop more and more into what I call a future premier point guard in this league.”
January, Indiana’s first-round pick (sixth overall) out of Arizona State, will come off the bench Saturday when the Fever play their only game at Seattle.
“Honestly, it’s going to be a second homecoming,” she said. “We just left Arizona. I’d have to say those Sun Devil fans are amazing. The players are amazing, the coaches are amazing. They were all cheering for Indiana.
“I don’t know if we’ll get as big of a turnout in Seattle but there will be a few people there.”
Indiana is rolling, setting several records for the 11-year old franchise. Along the way, January has been a big part, contributing six points and two assists in 18 minutes per game.
Not surprisingly she said the two biggest adjustments were the physical maturity of the players and the pace of the game.
“What I’ve been trying to do is take every day and learn,” she said. “I make a focus plan for myself to improve little areas at a time.
“You have to continually be able to produce. (ASU coach) Charli (Turner Thorn) prepared me so well for this, my work ethic, my mentality for the game. It’s fun because it’s not that big of a change.”
Coming off the Sun Devils bench for two seasons also helped.
“You get a feel for the game, see the adjustments, see what’s working,” she said. “I feel a little more comfortable that way.”
Having a veteran like Bevilaqua in front of her helps the transition.
“I cannot tell you everything I’ve learned from her,” January said. “I can’t imagine going through this without her.”
It is a challenge, even for the two-time Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
“Chamique Holdsclaw (Atlanta), she’s the real deal,” January said, obviously awed by the former Tennessee superstar. “I found myself on the court trying to play defense just watching her. She’s a player at both ends of the court.”
The Los Angeles Sparks lineup “full of Olympians is incredible,” she said. “Sue Bird (Seattle) and Becky Hammon (San Antonio) are by far are the two hardest players I’ve had to guard. They were my idols. They definitely made me look like a rookie.”
After the season January plans to take some time off for rest and relaxation, then head overseas. Though that is a ways off, she is considering offers from teams in Israel, Spain and Poland.
It’s been quite a ride for the four-year starter for the Tigers who went on to a record-breaking career at ASU with two trips to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Success and happiness continue to follow her.
“I can’t get over how great of place I’m in,” she said. “My teammates, coaches, everything, and of course winning is fun. I’m having a blast.”