A fortuitous break in the Storm schedule allowed Briann January a chance to return to Indiana last month for a special 10-year anniversary celebrating the Fever’s 2012 WNBA championship.
All 12 Fever players and coach Lin Dunn were honored during a ceremony that felt like a long overdue reunion for some of the best players in franchise history.
“It meant everything to get that team back together,” January said. “We hadn’t been together since we won it. We picked up right where we left off. We had a super, amazing group. It was one of those special teams that instantly clicked on and off the court. You had a team of people that was willing to do whatever it took for our team to be successful and really cared about each other.
“To have us back together and feel that joy again was amazing. And the fans came out to show their support. It was great. I’m glad I was able to have the time to make it back there for it.”
At 4 p.m. PT Tuesday, January, who is retiring after the season, returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse one more time and will play her final game where her 14-year WNBA career began when the Storm (13-8) take on Indiana (5-17).
During a pregame ceremony, the Fever plan to honor January, who spent nine seasons (2009-17) in Indiana, as well as Storm star Sue Bird, who has been feted and celebrated during a farewell tour that began 2½ weeks ago.
It’s going to be an emotional goodbye for January, who is one of the most decorated players in Fever history.
The 5-foot-8 guard had an indelible impact on Indiana since the franchise selected her No. 6 overall in the 2009 WNBA draft out of Arizona State.
“Getting drafted there was a blessing,” said January, who is widely recognized as the most prolific point guard in Fever history. “I learned how to be a professional. I grew my game. I was able to learn from the best. Lin Dunn was one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for. Steph White was there. Gary Kloppenburg, I’ll give him a shout out.
“Just having amazing vets like Tamika Catchings, Katie Douglas, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Ebony Hoffman, who is now my coach [with the Storm]. Just having vets like that show me what it took to have a long successful career in this league. I was really set up for success and I just learned and soaked it all in and taken it with me throughout my entire career.”
January ranks fourth all-time among Fever players in scoring with 2,244 points behind Catchings (7,380), Douglas (2,564) and Kelsey Mitchell (2,266). January is also second in Fever history in games (250) and assists (909) and third in steals (285).
During her Indiana tenure, January made her only appearance in the WNBA All-Star Game in 2014 when she averaged a career-high 10.3 points, 3.7 assists and 1.5 steals.
January earned six of her seven All-WNBA Defensive team accolades with the Fever and made two of her three trips to the WNBA Finals with Indiana. The Fever also appeared in the WNBA Finals in 2009.
“That was a special team,” January said when asked about the 2012 squad. “If you looked at our team on paper, we had no business competing with the other teams. We had an Olympian in Tamika and then after that we kind of just put it together. We were so connected and we worked so hard. It was just a gritty team. That’s why I say it was one of the best teams. Not only did we have the connection on the court, but off the court as well. Those are still to this day some of my closest friends.
“For me it was a special year because it was the year after I tore my ACL. So, coming back, going through a full year of rehab and being the starting point guard for a team that goes all the way to the championship, it was just a special year for me in my growth.”
In 2018, the Fever traded January to the Phoenix Mercury, where she played two years before a two-year stint (2020-21) with the Connecticut Sun.
In February, the Storm signed the 35-year-old January to a one-year deal worth $140,000.
At that time, it was considered a win-win move. The Spokane native got the opportunity to finish her professional basketball career close to home. The Storm were getting a defensive-minded guard who averaged 7.0 points and 3.1 assists while shooting a career best 42.5% from the field and 38% on three-pointers last season.
So far, January has had a negligible impact while coming off the bench for the first time since 2010.
She’s played a significant role in just two games — both wins and a pair of starts in place of Bird, who was in the league’s health and safety protocols — while scoring 12 and 11 points and combining to shoot five of seven three-pointers.
“Bri is someone who knows what it takes to win in this league,” coach Noelle Quinn said at the time. “… Naturally, with her you think about her defense and what she brings on that side of the floor with her energy and just being gritty. But she can knock down shots as well and she’s shown that throughout her career.”
January led the WNBA in three-point shooting in 2015 at 43.1%, and she’s a 37.7% shooter from long range in her career.
However, this season she’s shooting a career-low 28.3% behind the arc. January is also averaging career lows in scoring (4.2 points per game) and minutes (18.4) while her 2.9 assists per game are the fewest since her rookie year.
Admittedly, January said, “I’ve never cared about stats” and has spent her entire career focused on “putting my team in the best position to win,” which is a testament to her 249-191 WNBA record in regular season and playoff games.
No matter how this season ends, January is sure to remember her final game in Indiana and a night to relive glory days with the Fever.
“I did believe in myself and my ability, but in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have written out a story like that,” said January, who plans to pursue a basketball coaching career next year. “It’s just phenomenal. Being able to play with some of the best in the game … Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird. These are people that I grew up watching, and I got to play alongside of them and win a lot of games.
“Just very fortunate in my career to be an All-Star, win a championship and the all-defensive teams. I couldn’t imagine this for little Briann coming out of ASU. I was on the verge of tears when Lin Dunn yelled at me my first year. Just a lot of growth.”