Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week she speaks with Indiana point guard Briann January, who has helped the Fever win eight of its past 11 games after a 1-7 start. A former Lewis and Clark High School (Spokane) star, January was recently honored with her team at the White House as the 2012 WNBA champions.
Jayda Evans: You made your first trip to the White House in June to be honored for the 2012 WNBA title. How was the experience?
Briann January: That was the final celebration to our championship. To be able to be there, meet the President and go on stage to give him his jersey was awesome.
Evans: Fever coach Lin Dunn was emotional in thanking the President and his family for empowering women. How did you react to that moment?
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January: Lin always makes her stance very well known. But he (President Obama) has done a lot for women. He supports women’s sports. To have that support from the top in something that we do, that we put our everything into… it’s a great feeling to have a president that backs us like that.
Evans: Did you get to speak with President Obama one-on-one?
January: I turned into a little girl when he came and shook my hand. I was super nervous and he could sense that. He said, ‘Is everything OK?’ I was like, ‘Yes, I’m just so happy to be here and meeting you and being in your presence.’ I went on and just turned into the biggest little girl ever.
Evans: You’re only in your fifth WNBA season but seem to have experienced everything from being a deep reserve as a rookie (2009), suffering a season-ending knee injury (2011) to a championship starter (2012). Has it felt like a whirlwind start to your pro career?
January: I’ve definitely faced some adversity and (my team) has definitely faced some adversity. We wouldn’t have been able to work through all of those things without the people we have on our team and the support we give each other. It was really tough. I found out a lot about myself with the knee injury. I had to dig deep but had as support Erin Phillips and Tamika Catchings, who tore an ACL and came back. They were in my ear encouraging me, but I also met with a psychologist and had our strength and conditioning coach. I put in the work. I pushed myself to places I didn’t think I could go with my mental toughness and ability to stay dedicated. That adversity and how I came through it is what made me stronger.
So then you must still be a black belt in Karate?
January: Oh yeah. When I go home (Spokane), I always try to catch a class and train a little bit. I’m a little rusty now. I haven’t been able to go home and train for a while. But it’s like riding a bike, you never forget those things. I still have it.
The Fever is third in the Eastern Conference standings, looking more like your championship selves. How do you feel about the way you’re playing?
January: We’re not letting that start to the season faze us. We know what we’re capable of doing and it took time to bring it together. We’re still expecting to make the playoffs. We’re still out to win a championship and I do think we have the talent and ability to get there.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.