Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, June 09, 2014

WNBA Report: January Giving Warmth to Indiana Fever

By Rob Knox

When Briann January finishes feasting on the competition, she can usually be found dining at one of the many restaurants along Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis.

The affable 5 foot, 7 inch Indiana Fever guard has always been one of the most underrated players in the WNBA during her first five years in the league. Now, in her sixth year in the league, January is devouring everything in her path like a twister while flourishing as a leading lady.

Eight games into the campaign for the 4-4 Fever, who host Seattle Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 7:00 p.m., January is averaging a career-best 14.1 points and 4.9 assists per game.

Prior to splitting a back-to-back set against Washington and Connecticut last weekend, January was named WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first time in her career last week.

Even more valuable than her individual statistics is that January helped steady the Fever ship when they opened the season with three straight setbacks.

Running the offense like a smooth operator, January has done a great job early in the season picking and choosing her spots to look for her shot or create scoring opportunities for her teammates.

She’s definitely the catalyst for the Fever. Whether she has been on or off the ball, January has made an impact this season.

Without Tamika Catchings in the lineup, the 27-year-old Capricorn is leading the Fever better than ever. January is also the second longest tenured member of the Fever behind Catchings.

“I am happy we got some wins,” January said. “We started off a little slow. Even though we lost a couple of games, I felt that we were getting better. As we continued to get better, everybody was being placed in better positions to be successful. I think that’s what happened to me. My teammates did a great job of finding me in open areas while we were executing our offense better.”

January credits her offseason for the individual success she has achieved so far this season. In addition to rehabbing from a torn labrum and leading the Brazilian League with 4.4 assists per game while playing for Maranhao Basquete, January enjoyed an uplifting experience working as a volunteer coach for Division II Adelphi University.

January hasn’t turned water to wine, but wherever January has been, winning has followed.

Like she did in leading Arizona State to the Sweet 16 and making key contributions to the Fever’s 2012 WNBA title team, January fed the soul of the Adelphi women’s basketball team with a heaping helping of knowledge and guidance. Her presence was one key ingredient as Adelphi enjoy one of its best season in school history with 23 wins that included a top 25 national ranking.

It turned into a win-win situation for January, who admitted working with Adelphi also improved her overall game. Being on the other side of the court was a blessing for January.

“It was an awesome opportunity,” January said of working with Adelphi. “It gave me another perspective into the coaching side and a little insight on something I want to do in the future. No doubt about, it definitely helped me with my game.

As a coach and seeing all the pieces that go into the game is definitely a unique challenge. One of the main reasons I want to get into coaching is to impact the lives of young women because that’s a pivotal and crucial time for them. I feel like I was able to go in and develop some relationships and improve their games and it was rewarding. It was nice to be a part of that.”

January definitely impacted the game of Adelphi 5-8 senior point guard Sade Jackson, who graduated last month with a degree in sports management. Jackson met with January once a week for open discussions about her progress as a player, growth as a woman, academic successes and preparing for life after Adelphi.

Jackson averaged 14.3 ppg and 8.1 apg to land her on the Northeast-10 All-conference first team and the All-Met First Team. She led the NE-10 and all of Division II in assists per game and was third in the conference in double-doubles (12). The guard was averaging 2.2 steals per game and 6.0 rebounds per game at the conclusion of the program's best season since 2001. She joined the 1,000 point club on January 25.

January still remained in contact with the team while she was playing in Brazil. Before the Northeast-10 Conference title contest and the NCAA tournament games, January would send text messages to Jackson telling her specifically what she needed to do to be successful.

“For me personally, I was excited when I learned that she was going to volunteer with us this year,” Jackson said.

“I am also a point guard so to have somebody that I look up to who is a starting guard in the WNBA; I knew it would help my game. She helped me more mentally by keeping me calm and helping me look at the game from a different perspective. I felt very blessed to have had an opportunity to spend time with her. I appreciated it more than she probably knows. It really hit me when she was getting ready to leave (in January to play in Brazil). I appreciated everything she did for me and our team.”

Despite playing most of the 2013 season with a painful shoulder, January was named to the WNBA All-Defense Team for the second consecutive year while averaging 9.8 points per game. However, those close to her knew she wasn’t right. January just continued playing with the discomfort and managing it best she could. During the offseason, January went through intense rehab to heal her body.

With her shoulder injury behind her, January’s game has evolved to another level this season. In five previous WNBA seasons, January never averaged more than 10.3 points per game in 2012. She's already scored 20 points in three times this year, after only accomplishing the feat four times in 136 career games prior to this season. Her 3-point shooting has been mesmerizing, especially at home where she is 12-for-13.

“It wasn’t the most comfortable and I think that reflected a lot in the way I was playing last year,” January said. “I had muscles overcompensating for the ones that weren’t working because of the injury so I had to retrain my shoulder to work properly again. It was discouraging at times. I had some great physical therapy people up in New York and they did a good job. I got to rehab mentally and physically and went over to Brazil play some good hoops for three months and got my flow back.”

January is an early candidate to earn a coveted spot on the All-Star team. Though that’s not her focus, it would be special for January especially considering the game is in Phoenix on July 19, which is a hop, skip and a few 3-pointers from Tempe where she starred for the Sun Devils.

“It would be awesome to be recognized,” January said. “That would be nice. If our team is winning then I am happy to go on that trip to All-Star game. It would be cool to go back home to Arizona. I understand the game better and it’s beginning to slow down for me. When you first get here, you’re taking in all of this new information, playing against the best and going 100 miles per hour. I know what coach (Lin Dunn) is expecting. I know my role and I am comfortable more than ever.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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