By MARK MOSCHETTI
A hard hat. And a lunch bucket.
Briann January doesn’t actually bring those things with her on practice days with the Seattle Storm. Doesn’t bring them on game days, either.
But for 14 seasons – including this first, last, and only one with Seattle before retiring – she brings that kind of work ethic whenever she walks onto the practice court or onto the game court.
Be ready to go from the opening whistle. Be ready to do whatever it takes. Be ready to stay until the job is done – even if it occasionally takes some overtime.
Every team with championship dreams – including the Storm – has its share of high-caliber, high-profile horsepower.
But the difference between dreaming of a championship and actually winning one is dependent in no small way on its high-intensity, lower-profile workhorses.
“She has no problem with that aspect of coming to work every single day, putting the work in, going hard in everything she does,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “You love that about her.
“At the end of the day, she has the heart of a champion – you never question it,” Quinn added. “She’s just the consummate professional.”
That’s why January fits in so well in Seattle as she prepares to bring down the curtain on a career that includes four trips to the WNBA Finals, one championship (2012 with Indiana), seven All-Defensive team appearances, and one All-Star game.
“They checked a lot of the boxes I was looking for,” said January, who signed the Storm on Feb. 2, just one day after free agency began. “Understanding this was going to be my last year, I wanted to compete for a championship, and I felt like this team is built to compete for one and put themselves in contention. Also, there was having another veteran point guard (none other than Sue Bird) to share the load with. Coming off a year like last year (with Connecticut) when I played 30-plus minutes a game, I was not looking to do that again.
“Ultimately, it came down to playing in front of my family one more time. Being from Washington, my parents are in Spokane, and they’ve already been able to catch more games than they have in a season.”
Heading into the final regular-season homestand, which begins on Wednesday against Minnesota when the Storm will salute January for her distinguished career, she has seen action in all 31 games, with five starts, and double-digit minutes in every game. She’s averaging 3.5 points and 2.4 assists. Her assist average includes one game each of seven, six, and five, and three games of four.
Matter of fact, given the choice of making a game-winning shot or making the pass for that shot, it’s a no-brainer decision for January.
“Oh, man – making the pass!” she replied, breaking into a big smile at the same time. “I love that you’re setting up to get it done. I’ve always loved that.”
EXCEEDING THE EXPECTATIONS
From her days at Lewis & Clark High School in Spokane to college at Arizona State, and right into her WNBA career, Briann January has approached basketball with the idea of out-working everyone else.
“I was never the best player; I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school,” she said.
She landed at Arizona State, and under the guidance of legendary coach Charli Turner Thorne, January blossomed into a two-time Pacific-10 Defensive Player of the Year, a two-time honorable mention All-American, and the all-time leader in assists (538) and free throw percentage (.830) leader for the Sun Devils.
Even with that, January didn’t have particularly high expectations heading into the 2009 WNBA draft.
“I always joke that on draft day, I was invited to the draft, but I was called by a different team saying they wanted to invite me to training camp.”
January wound up as the No. 6 overall selection, tabbed by former Storm coach and then-Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn.
“Nobody really expected that,” she added of being the sixth pick. “My agent knew; he was talking about it. I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ Even in that moment, I was kind of doubting it.”
“(Dunn) had followed me up and down the West Coast that entire season, so I knew she had her eye on me. But I wasn’t sure it was a definite thing,” January recalled.
As a rookie in ’09, January played in 33 of the 34 regular-season games, averaging 6.9 points and 2.3 assists. Then, she was in all 10 Indiana playoff games, averaging 10.6 points and 3.0 assists, eventually helping take the Fever to the decisive fifth game of the WNBA Finals before falling to the Phoenix Mercury.
Already, January was making her mark as a pro – and in her mind, there was no question as to why.
“I’ve had this chip on my shoulder, this underdog mentality where I just have to keep working my butt off and prove I belong here,” she said. “I never believed it, but I just kept my head down, kept working – and here we are.”
NEXT STOP: JUST CALL HER ‘COACH’
And here we are.
Like most every athlete in most every sport, January would like to keep playing a little longer. The heart always wants to say, ‘Go.’
But sometimes, the body says, ‘No.’
“I still love this game so much,” she said. “But if we’re going to be completely honest, it’s getting to a point where I feel like I can’t be myself out there. I don’t want to be out there if I can’t play the way I want to. I feel like I have enough to finish out this season and give this team everything I have, and after that, hang it up.
“Playing in pain takes away the joy sometimes. I don’t want to remember playing that way.”
However, the next part of her passion for the game is already heating up:
January wants to coach.
She has done so at the college level. She spent 2013-14 as a volunteer assistant at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. During the 2017-18 season, she was an assistant at her alma mater of Arizona State.
As her next step approaches, January has her sights set higher.
“I want to coach in the ‘W’ and help some of these women have long careers like I did and achieve everything and experience everything that I did, being an All-Star and winning a championship,” she said. “I want to give back to this game that has given so much to me.”
Speaking of winning a championship, the Storm are now officially in the mix to do just that, as they clinched a playoff spot with last Saturday’s 82-77 victory at Washington.
That checks one of January’s boxes.
“We have a group of veterans here, and all the things you kind of have to work through with younger teams, like communication and putting and the work and working together, all of those things happen effortlessly here,” she said. “We have veterans who have been in the league, been successful in the league, and they know what it takes to win.”
January talked about how this final season has so many “last moments,” which includes final games in each of the 11 league cities. The most significant of those games for her was a visit to Indiana on July 5, where she played for the first nine seasons of her career.
“Now, I just kind of step back and look at everything, and it’s like, ‘Wow,’” she said, getting a bit emotional as she spoke. “Honestly, that’s all I can say. It has been an amazing career for me.
“It has taken a lot of work, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.”