‘It worked out perfect’: Lewis and Clark alum Briann January relishing chance to play her final WNBA season in Seattle

ARLINGTON, Texas — Briann January knows her 14th season as a professional basketball player will be her last. So it’s fitting that she spends it with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, a team she grew up with in Spokane.

“It’s everything. (I remember) just growing up playing The Storm and saying I want to be as good as them,” January said during a recent road trip to Dallas to finish and play my last season with the home team that I always dreamed of playing, I couldn’t even imagine it. It worked out perfectly.”

In 15 games with the Storm, including four starts, the Lewis and Clark High School product has averaged 4.6 points, 1.2 rebounds and 3 assists per game.

For Storm head coach Noelle Quinn, who recalls her days at UCLA playing against January and then Arizona State, the January numbers only give a glimpse of her worth for Seattle.

“Bri is tough. She’s in our league,” Quinn said. “Always defensive minded, but one thing that’s underestimated about Bri’s game is her offensive efficiency, her ability to take shots down like pull-up threes. Overall, she’s playing the game with her wits. She is a very good leader. That canine mentality, that courage that she has, our team needs a lot.”

Playing her final season as a pro in Seattle has also brought a bonus, as friends, family and other Spokane well-wishers can now see her play regularly.

“They mean everything. I was raised by a phenomenal group of people in Spokane, extended family, teammates and coaches that are now family,” January said. “I’ve been truly blessed with the people I’ve met in Spokane. You really shaped the person I am today.”

The focus of this group is of course her immediate family, mother Sally, father Barry who taught her karate, older sister Aleisha and younger sister Kiara.

“If you talk to my father, he will attribute all my successes in the game to my training[in karate],” January said. “He has studied martial arts since he was in the military. He still teaches karate in Spokane. It really helped me (helped me) everything from balance to self control to body control, knowing how to fall, knowing how to refocus in chaotic times, it really gave me a foundation that I only realizing later that it is that helped me so much.”

January got her black belt in high school, a story with an interesting twist involving sibling rivalry.

“I started playing basketball seriously and it’s on hiatus. Then my little sister got her black belt before me and I was like, oh no, this can’t happen, so I went back in and got my black belt,” she said. “We have a family full of black belts, which is pretty cool.”

As one of Storm’s newest players, she’s still adjusting to a new system and group of teammates. But when that roster includes women superstars like Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, that transition becomes easier.

“It’s really easy when you have a group of veterans. We’re not a very young team, but when you have a group of veterans who are very competitive, know the game and just want to win (it’s great),” said January. “Everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to help our team succeed. When you have a group like that, it’s easy to fit in.”

However, January has not only spent the last 13 seasons as a professional player in the United States, she has also played abroad in countries such as Turkey, Brazil, Israel and Hungary. For some players playing abroad can be positive or negative depending on the country, team, coach and situation.

But January sees her overall tenure abroad as very positive. “I was able to see parts of the world that I would never have been able to see without this game,” she said. “It was a pleasure to immerse myself in different cultures, learn about their history and eat all their delicious foods that I love. I’ve made friends everywhere, from Turkey to Brazil and Israel to Hungary where I last played. It was really a fun experience.”

With the end of her playing days in sight, she sees the coaching she received in college ranks as her next challenge. “I fell in love with her when I was in the state of Arizona,” January said. “I found something that just ignited me as much as being out there on the pitch. Yes, that will be the next step in my journey.”

As for where that next opportunity will lie, she wants to start by exploring opportunities for ex-players in the WNBA while also keeping an open mind for any other opportunities that may arise.

Quinn already sees the makings of a great coach in January who is a natural leader at Storm. “[She]shows that in her work ethic on a day-to-day basis, not just on the defensive side of the ball, but offensively in day-to-day practice by working hard, speaking through the replays, being a leader, and speaking to everyone,” Quinn said.

And with the curtain set to fall on her 14-year playing career, which includes a WNBA title in 2021 with Indiana and various league honors, January has no regrets. “I didn’t imagine being in the league for so long. I just think I was lucky enough to have been there (great people and organizations),” she said.

“I got drafted from Indiana Fever and got to play with Tamika Catchings, who showed me how to really become a pro. Every place I’ve played I’ve tried to be the ultimate pro, just play my heart out. I think the teams appreciated it and kept me.”

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