January Fever
Lior Klinger ,11/02/2012
The starting point guard of the new WNBA champion will board a long flight in a few days and land here, in Israel, in Ramat Hasharon. The coaches already tabbed her as pre-season MVP, and 'Safsal' is very excited for Briann January's return. Inside we'll try to explain why you should be, too.

To be completely honest, there aren't a lot of reasons to get excited over the new division I women's basketball season in Israel. If we ignore last year's exciting playoffs, the regular season itself had many tough to watch games. But as I sat in my living room in the middle of the night and watched the Indiana Fever win their first WNBA title in the sold out Bankers Life Fieldhouse, I got goosebumps. The fact that their starting PG, Briann January, will play here in Israel this season is definitely a reason to get off the couch and go see her live in action.

"I can honestly say I've been dreaming about this for about two years, since we lost in 09 my rookie season, I dreamt of getting back here", said January in a locker room interview moments after the Fever hoisted the Championship trophy. "When I went down last year with the injury I was like, I'm gonna work hard. This is the moment I'm working for. To get my team to this point and we did it, I can't tell you how happy I am", she said before the tears came flowing.

January, who played a great half season in Israel for Raanana in the 09/10 season, has definitely come a long way. Ten games into the 2010 WNBA season, she tore her ACL. It was a major blow to the talented point guard, the 6th overall pick in the 2009 draft, who everyone expected to become the Fever's starting floor general.

"She's a tremendous defender, she's quick with the ball, she can get to the rim. She's a tough, tough kid, she's just a great player", said Fever head coach and women's basketball legend Lin Dunn of January to the local Indiana press before the season began. A few months later, having being named to the WNBA's All-Defensive team and winning a championship, January proved how right her coach was.

If you didn't follow the WNBA playoffs this year you missed a true Cinderella story. Indiana has been one of the league's top teams for years, haven't missed the playoffs in the last 6 seasons, made it to the finals in 2009, but never won the title. The Fever's superstar, Tamika Catchings, was on the verge of being invited to the "Best players that never won it" club. And then it happened, against all odds, with no one outside the club believing they had a chance. Indiana did it the hard way, and that's an understatement.

The Fever hosted Atlanta for the first game of the playoffs, the same team which sent them packing in last year's Eastern Conference finals. The Dream won game 1 in Indy, but the Fever forced a game 3 and returned the favor by ending Atlanta's season. The Fever lost game 1 of the East finals at Connecticut, and again had to beat the statistics which say 70% of game 1 winners move on to win the series. They did it, largely thanks to January's incredible hustle play at the end of game 2. After missing a potential game winning layup, January dove after the ball and saved it to Shavonte Zellous who hit the game winner to force game 3. "We want this so bad," January said afterwards, "we're going to give everything we have. That buzzer hadn't sounded. You play until that thing goes off."

The Fever became just the 3rd team to win a game 3 on the road in the regional finals as they eliminated Connecticut, despite losing Katie Douglas to injury early in the game. In the finals against the defending champions Minnesota Lynx, who lost only 7 games the whole season, few believed the Fever stood a chance. Then Indiana won game 1 on the road, lost game 2 and came back home for a huge game 3 which they won by 17, after leading by 37 points during the 3rd quarter – the largest lead ever in a WNBA finals game. Unlike in 2009, the Fever closed the deal in game 4 and won the series in front of their amazing fans. Relentless defense and hard work beat talent, and in convincing fashion. It was a special day for eternal underdog supporters everywhere.

To the question "how in the world did they do it", exist many answers. One of them is going to be dribbling in Ramat Hasharon in the upcoming months. "She's done a really good job," Tamika Catchings said to the Indiana press of January's season. "If you look at her numbers in every single one of the categories, this is the best she's played by far. As far as consistency, too, just being that third scorer out there that we know we can count on. Even defensively, stepping up her game and being a huge presence on the defensive end". In games 3 and 4 January got the assignment of defending Simone Augustus, and she held her to 7 points per game on 6 from 30 from the field. January averaged a career high 10.3 points (40.4% FG, 43% 3pt FG – career high) points, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game in the regular season and 11.5 points (42.6% FG), 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game in the postseason.

One person who was not at all surprised at January's success was Jim Redmon, her High School coach. January grew up in Spokane, Washington, and ever since she graduated Lewis & Clark HS she's been going back to visit and help Redmon coach every year. All the current players know her and had a chance to talk to her. January served as team captain all four years at Lewis & Clark, and was also a member of the track & field team where she high jumped 5'8 at her best.

"Even in 8th grade, she was better than anyone on the court but she would never show it, she would do all the little things that coaches notice and she always made her teammates better", said Redmon. "She started all four years and was a leader from day one. She led us in all categories except scoring, that changed her senior year, we could tell that she was gaining in the understanding how good she could be. She was one of those players that made great decisions, and in most cases made them before I even would think of them. She clearly was a extension of me and I feel her greatest strength is her court vision, it's one of the best I have ever seen. She was very coachable and was always talking basketball with me", he continued.

"I thought about how Bri is s top defender and I don't think she has gotten enough credit for that, and as the Finals went on I think the world could see how great of a defender she is. The night she won I teared up and I felt that for all her hard work, even after her injury, to win a Championship was just awesome", he described his feelings on that special October night. Redmon said January was going back and forth between Indy and Spokane during her rehab period, as she tried to recover. "She was in our gym working day and night after her injury, trying to get back in shape and getting her knee ready for the season. Now she is the first and hopefully not the last Lewis & Clark graduate to win a Championship", he said.

You have to agree it's pretty amazing that a player of this caliber is coming to Israel, we can only hope there's no exit clause in her contract. If all goes well and January stays healthy, there's no question that she is on the radar of Team USA heading into the World Championship in 2014 at Istanbul and for Rio 2016. Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's chief operating officer, is one of five people on the player selection committee and since the 2012 Olympic point guards, Sue Bird (32) and Lindsay Whalen (30), aren't getting any younger, 25 year old January could very well be wearing a Team USA jersey in the near future.

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