ASU women's basketball has built a strong program under head coach Charli Turner Thorne, and Briann January is now learning from her former coach during her first year on the Sun Devil staff.
Former Sun Devil great and current WNBA star Briann January has taken time off from playing basketball year round to try coaching. January’s basketball schedule would usually consist of playing for the Indiana Fever and then heading overseas in the offseason to stay on top of her game.
“(I'm) just allowing my body to get a break,” January said. “We (WNBA players) go from one season to another, and this allows me to kind of let my body rest and focus on myself and prepare for the future.”
Timing is everything in basketball, and January’s decision to rest her body opened an opportunity for her to head back to her alma mater.
“It was just good timing all around,” January said. “Charli approached me with the opportunity. Everything just worked perfectly.”
Openings in Turner Thorne's staff do not come often. In her 21 years as the Sun Devils coach, she's had assistants with her for 10 to 15 years.
“When I have a position open, I have a short list and she's (January) been on there,” Turner Thorne said. “Ever since I knew she was thinking about transitioning to coaching, it was a matter of if she was ready or not and if she wanted too ... It was a win-win for everybody.”
Being able to coach with Turner Thorne and see how she keeps the Sun Devils in a strong position yearly has given January a better understanding of what is put into the program.
“I knew the work that she put into the program to make it what it is,” January said. “I was a part of it, I went through it all four years ... I’ve gained a better understanding of everything it takes to create a power program. It's no wonder she has been successful, and I’ve just been in awe of observing, of taking it all during my time. It's been great."
During January’s four years as a Sun Devil, she concluded her career at or near the top of every ASU statistical category. She ranks first in assists and free throw percentage, second in steals and free throws, and seventh in points.
As a sophomore, point guard Kiara Russell has taken every bit of advice January, a point guard herself, has given her.
“She’s in our position, so her being a point guard, she’s going to have things to say,” Russell said. "She sees the game as I see it, even though she’s on the bench not playing. She knows a lot about the game.”
For January, her WNBA career has consisted of a WNBA championship, an All-Star appearance, three WNBA All-Defensive first team and two WNBA All-Defensive second team honors.
January knows a lot about the game and likes what she is seeing from the guard play this year.
“They're just very skilled and work hard,” January said. “Every day, they come in here and they're wanting to work and learn and get better. That’s huge ... If you have that, all the rest of the stuff is going to fall in place.”
The current ASU team has kept the season alive despite the loss of junior guard Sabrina Haines. With a current 17-9, 8-6 Pac-12 record, the Sun Devils have used a rotation of guards to lead this team to the big dance.
Russell and her teammates have realized how important January has been as a role model, especially if they want to follow professional aspirations and go to the WNBA.
“Just being in the gym with her and seeing her and what she’s been through (at) ASU and also her WNBA career is amazing,” Russell said. “She has so much to say about the game, and she has one of the highest IQs from the game.”
January has taken what she has learned from Turner Thorne and has implemented it towards the current team.
“Ever since she's gotten here, she's just an incredible mentor,” Turner Thorne said. "She's incredible as a person.”
As she heads into her 10th WNBA season, the thought of returning to the Sun Devils for the 2018-19 season has already crossed January’s mind.
“Yeah, I love it. I’m invested now,” January said. “They are great. It would break my heart to think about not being here and finishing it out with this group ... They are great kids, and they're going to do amazing things. I want to be a part of it.”
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