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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane’s Briann January embraces WNBA coaching career during first year as Connecticut Sun assistant

Briann January of the Seattle Storm arrives before the game against the Minnesota Lynx at Climate Pledge Arena on Aug. 3, 2022, in Seattle.  (Getty Images)
By Stephen Hunt For The Spokesman-Review

ARLINGTON, Texas – Briann January had her number retired at Arizona State in 2021 and in 2022 she was inducted into the ASU Athletics Hall of Fame.

The latest honor for this Spokane native, her induction into the Hooptown USA Hall of Fame earlier this year, is extra special for the first-year assistant coach with the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

“Yeah, I think it’s really cool to be among those names,” January said during a recent road trip to Dallas. “To be mentioned alongside some greats that came to Spokane is an honor in itself, to be recognized from the hometown, those are the people that I really love and care (about), and where my journey in this game started. To be recognized there means a lot to me.”

January, a 2005 Lewis and Clark High graduate, led the Tigers to the state semifinals as a senior and was state champion in the high jump. She starred for the Sun Devils and for 14 seasons in Europe and in the WNBA, winning a championship with Indiana in 2012 while also earning one all-star nod and five selections to the league’s all-defense first-team.

Joining her in the second Hooptown USA Hall of Fame class were Stacy Clinesmith, a Gonzaga women’s assistant and former WNBA player; Fred Crowell, founder of the Nothing but Commitment Basketball Camps; Shann Ferch, a former player at Montana State and Pepperdine who is a Gonzaga professor; and the 1996 Whitworth Pirates men’s team, which nearly won the NAIA Division II championship.

January, who played her final WNBA season in 2022 with Seattle, was present for the announcement of the class but was unable to make the ceremony because the Sun were playing back-to-back games.

“I couldn’t get away,” January said. “We were right in Seattle, but we had a back-to-back to Minnesota, so we had to leave right away. I was so close but couldn’t get there. My family showed up. My high school coach was there and a couple coaches from my younger days were there, so they were able to represent and be there on behalf of me.”

After last season, she knew her playing days were over. She accepted an invite from Stephanie White, who had coached her in Indiana and was hired to coach the Sun, to join her staff, an assignment which was a long time coming.

“Obviously, Bri has coached in college before,” White said. “My experience with her when she was a player and I was coaching, just her work ethic, her understanding of the game, her communication style (impressed me).

“She’s a connector. She has just a way about her that people are drawn to her. She commands the respect of those around her because of how hard she works. But I’ve always known that I wanted her to be a part of my staff. I’m just thankful that she’s finally retired and it can happen.”

January gives White credit for her continued persistence and admits it was a nice feeling once everything fell into place for her to finally join her staff.

“She is (persistent), that she is. The timing, it worked out perfectly,” January said. “I for sure was done with basketball and was prepared for the role. I know Steph and she is one of the best to do it. I wanted to be in my best place and prepared to be the best for her when I joined her staff. The other people we brought on staff, (fellow assistants) Austin (Kelly) and Abi (Olajuwon), the timing couldn’t have been better for all of us to come together.”

January has previous coaching experience, from a stint at Adelphi (New York) in 2013-14 and at ASU in 2017. This is her first taste of coaching at the professional level, a transition she feels was made easier because of her 14 seasons as a WNBA player.

“My later years in the league, my approach was more from a coaching perspective the way I saw the game, prepared, was showing up,” she said. “That did prepare me. I had coaches I was able to pick their brains and really get into the details of the game, which was helpful. I always had Charli (Turner) and those two years (coaching) at ASU really laid the foundation of coaching for me.”

White knew January would make an excellent coach.

“The biggest thing transitioning from player to coach is the time,” White said. “But she’s coached, so she understands that. She’s put together scouting reports. She’s watched film. She’s prepared for ballgames. She’s done player workouts. I think it (her transition) has been seamless. She certainly has stepped in and taken off in a way that I anticipated.”

January never forgets that Spokane, where she fondly remembers playing in Hoopfest every year she had the opportunity, is where her lifelong love of the game was forged.

“I really do think it’s an underrated hoop hot spot,” she said. “Spokane just loves the game of basketball. Parents love the game and they raise their kids loving the game. Spokane does a really good job of providing opportunities for kids to get involved with the game. I think that helps and harbors a place for hoops.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.