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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘It worked out perfect’: Lewis and Clark alum Briann January relishing chance to play her final WNBA season in Seattle

By Stephen Hunt For The Spokesman-Review

ARLINGTON, Texas – Briann January knows this, her 14th season of playing professional basketball, is her last. So it’s fitting that she’s spending it with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, a team she grew up watching in Spokane.

“It’s everything. (I remember) just growing up seeing the Storm play and saying I want to be as good as them,” January said during a recent road trip to Dallas. “Now, to finish my career and play my last season with the home team that I always dreamed about playing for, I couldn’t even imagine this happening. It worked out perfect.”

In 15 games with the Storm, which includes four starts, the Lewis and Clark High School product has averaged 4.6 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 3 assists per game.

For Storm head coach Noelle Quinn, who remembers her days at UCLA playing against January, then at Arizona State, January’s numbers provide only a brief glimpse into her value for Seattle.

“Bri is tough. She’s been in our league,” Quinn said. “Defensive-minded always, but an underrated thing about Bri’s game is her offensive efficiency, her ability to knock down the shots like pull-up 3s. Overall, she plays the game with her mind. She’s a very good leader. This dog mentality, this grit that she has, our team needs a lot.”

Playing her final season as a pro in Seattle also has delivered a bonus since friends, family and other well-wishers from Spokane are now able to regularly see her play.

“They mean everything. I was raised by a group of phenomenal people in Spokane, extended family, teammates and coaches that are now family,” January said. “I’ve been really blessed with the people I’ve met in Spokane. They’ve really shaped the person I am today.”

Front and center in that group is her immediate family: mother Sally, father Barry, who taught her karate, older sister Aleisha and younger sister Kiara.

“If you’re talking to my dad, he’s going to attribute all my successes in the game to my training (in karate),” January said. “He’s studied martial arts since he was in the military. He still teaches karate in Spokane. It really did (help me in), everything from balance to self-control to body control, knowing how to fall, knowing how to refocus in chaotic times. It really did give me a foundation that I didn’t recognize until later that it’s helped me out so much.”

January got her black belt in high school, a story with an interesting sibling rivalry-related twist.

“I started playing basketball seriously and put it on pause,” she said. “Then, my little sister got her black belt before me and I was like, ‘Oh no, this can’t happen,’ so I got back in it and got my black belt. We have a family full of black belts, which is pretty cool.”

As one of the Storm’s newest players, she’s still acclimating to a new system and to a new group of teammates. But when that roster includes women’s hoops superstars like Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, that transition becomes easier.

“It’s really easy when you have a group of veterans,” January said. “We’re not a very young team, but when you have a group of veterans that are very competitive, know the game, and just want to win, (it’s great). Everybody’s willing to do whatever they can to help our team be successful. When you have a group like that, it’s easy to fit in.”

January, however, hasn’t just spent the past 13 seasons playing professionally in the United States. She’s also played abroad in locales like Turkey, Brazil, Israel and Hungary. For some players, playing overseas can be positive or negative depending on the country, the team, coaches and the situation.

But January sees her entire tenure abroad as a huge positive.

“I’ve been able to see parts of the world that I never would have been able to if it weren’t for this game,” she said. “Being able to be immersed in different cultures, learn about their histories, and eat all their delicious foods, which I love, it’s been a pleasure. I’ve made friends everywhere from Turkey to Brazil to Israel to Hungary, where I most recently played. It really has been a fun experience.”

Now that the end of her playing days is on the immediate horizon, she sees coaching, which she got exposed to in the collegiate ranks, as her next challenge.

“I fell in love with it when I was at Arizona State,” January said. “I found something that ignited me as much as being out there on the court. Yeah, that’ll be the next step in my journey.”

As for where that next opportunity will be, she wants to first explore opportunities for former players in the WNBA while also keeping open to any other opportunities which present themselves.

Quinn already sees the makings of a great coach in January, who is a natural leader with the Storm.

“(She’s) showing that on a day-to-day basis within her work ethic not only on the defensive side of the ball, but offensively in practice every day going hard, talking through reps, being a leader and talking to everyone,” Quinn said.

As the curtain is set to fall on her 14-year playing career, one which includes a WNBA title in 2012 with Indiana and various league honors, January has no regrets.

“I didn’t imagine being in the league this long,” she said. “I just think I’ve been fortunate enough to have been around (great people and organizations).

“I was drafted by the Indiana Fever and was able to play with Tamika Catchings, who showed me how to really be a professional. Every place I’ve played, I’ve tried to be the ultimate professional, just play my heart out. I guess teams have appreciated it and they’ve kept me around.”