Briann January knows that she can’t play basketball forever.
After graduating from ASU in 2009 as a standout on the women’s basketball team and playing as a point guard in the WNBA, she occasionally had conversations with her former coach Charli Turner Thorne about potentially coaching in the future.
“I knew at some point basketball has to end,” January said. “I am now going into my 11th year in the (WNBA), so I had to figure out something for afterward. In my time thinking about that, I knew that I wanted to be around the game in some capacity because I just love it.”
January let Turner Thorne know that she was open to the idea of coaching during their many conversations. Turner Thorne then called January while she was playing overseas to let her know that ASU had an assistant coach position open, and in April 2017, the program announced that January would fill that spot.
January said she felt honored Turner Thorne even considered her for the position, and she also noted that it was perfect timing for her career-wise. After nine seasons with the Indiana Fever, where January won an WNBA Championship in 2012, she was traded to the Phoenix Mercury in March 2018 and she recently re-signed to a multi-year deal.
“It was a great opportunity at a great time because my body need a rest, and it was definitely something that I was interested in,” January said. “Now, it has just kind of stuck. Last year was a year where I wanted to go in and figure out if this was what I truly wanted to do, and I ending up loving it.”
Although she works with every player on the team, second-year assistant coach January naturally has set out to try to help guide Reili Richardson and Kiara Russell, who are currently both junior point guards.
January has continuously tried to make them better players, both offensively and defensively, and leaders on the court, which is invaluable for Richardson and Russell.
“When I first heard the news that she was coming here, I was really excited,” Richardson said. “Since then, it has been awesome just learning from her, her giving me tips on the court and she is a professional, so she knows.”
January added that she believes both are improving as all-around players.
During the regular season, Richardson, as a starter, has averaged 5.4 points and 4.7 assists per game while Russell has averaged 3.6 points and 2.2 assists per game off the bench. Both have also made defense a priority.
“I can see every day that they just take small strides in being better point guards,” January said. “It is nice for me to watch, and I am just here as a sounding board to give them some advice and show them and talk to them about what I see to help grow their game.”
With January playing in the WNBA as the same position Richardson and Russell play, Turner Thorne said she thinks they rely on her sometimes for specific insight.
She also said she thinks January can shift them into a tougher mindset by challenging both players in a constructive way, adding that, "… I think that is helpful for them and it helps them push their standards.”
January said she will continue to encourage the duo to be better and won’t let up on them because of the potential she sees within them. She also added that she finds herself still learning from them through their reads and movements.
“Oh my goodness, it is awesome watching them,” January said. “I am a firm believer that you can watch any basketball and pick something up. … Every day that I step on the court, they teach me some things.”
January also seems to have a knack for motivation.
Up until ASU lost 51-39 to Arizona on Dec. 30 in Tucson, January had never lost to the Wildcats as a player or a coach. That loss was unacceptable to her because she said ASU has put in so much work to be the best team in the state.
When Arizona came to Tempe on Feb. 1 to play in Wells Fargo Arena, January made it her mission to motivate ASU for revenge. After the 60-47 victory, Turner Thorne mentioned that January gave an intense and passionate speech before the game that Friday night, which players and January later confirmed.
“I just wanted them to feel it,” January said. “… I couldn’t let them go out there and not play Sun Devil basketball, which is playing with heart, toughness and togetherness. Those are all the things (Turner Thorne) has built this program on. ... I just challenged them to go out there, to play how they know how to play and do the things we talk about daily, playing relentlessly for each other and taking down that other team from over there.”
As a coach, January said she loves when players just come to sit in her office to talk about life, especially because this was a reason she wanted to pursue coaching.
“I remember myself being here and it being a very pivotal time in my life,” January said. “I was trying to figure out things, find my voice, who I was, what I was about and the direction I was heading in for the rest of my life. This is a huge opportunity for me to positively impact a young woman’s life, and I am glad that I can be a part of this to shed some light and to give some advice when I can and help them through it."