Not only is a new season beginning for the Indiana Fever, but so is a new era. Tamika Catchings, the long-time face of the franchise, is no longer suiting up for Indiana, meaning someone else will have to provide leadership for the group on and off-the-court. Replacing an icon and leader is never easy, but luckily the Fever have veteran point guard Briann January, who is more than ready for the role.
January is entering her ninth WNBA season, all of which have been in Indiana, making her the team’s longest-tenured player. Combine that experience with the fact that as a point guard she’s already accustomed to being a leader on the court, and you have the perfect recipe for the locker room’s new voice.
“I do take ownership of the team,” January said. “Even last year Catch (Tamika Catchings) was giving me more responsibility to step up as a leader, and I look to continue that.”
And though the team is only a few days into training camp, her new coach and fellow players have already seen January taking an advanced leadership role.
“You feel it,” Fever head coach Pokey Chatman said of January’s leadership. “You hear it. You see it. It’s natural. She got to be alongside one of the greatest of all-time, so she’s well equipped to take the next step.”
“I think you saw pieces of it last year with Tamika kinda stepping back and letting Bri lead more,” Fever forward Natalie Achonwa said. “Now it’s definitely in the forefront that she’s the voice and that Pokey looks to her too and that we all look to her.”
Achonwa couldn’t be more correct. During a Fever practice, when January speaks, the team listens. The communication between the point guard and her teammates is constant. Even when she’s not physically taking part in a drill, she’s talking to the team, always instructing and always encouraging.
“I’ve been playing with Bri since I’ve been here, and she’s always kind of had that leadership role of on-the-court talking and being vocal, but I think even more so this year she’s being more vocal on and off-the-court,” Fever guard Jeanette Pohlen-Mavunga said.
Being more vocal is something Chatman and January talked about when they met before the season, and so far those discussions have translated to the court, as January has taken opportunities to coach up her teammates when they’ve presented themselves.
“That’s just what I like from my point guard,” Chatman said. “I like them to feel the presence of being a coach.”
“She knows how to talk to who, when. She’s experienced with not just what goes on here in this culture but around the league. She truly is an extension of the coach.”
“The floor is hers,” Achonwa added. “When you have a legend, when you have someone like Tamika Catchings, someone who has been through it all, it’s her voice that’s needed. It’s her voice that’s heard. So when you take that away, it’s who is going to fill that void?”
“And now we’re giving the floor to Bri. I think that’s the biggest difference is that without her (Catchings) there, she’s the leadership. She’s the veteran. She’s the one that’s going to be that voice for us.”
As for January, she put thought into how she had to change her approach and be more vocal knowing that the Fever need her experience and guidance.
“I’ve been a part of this organization forever, and so I think I know what is expected of our team,” she said.
“Knowing that, I’m going to make sure everybody is upholding that and trying to get us to our highest level. I’m going to be vocal. I’m in everybody’s ears just trying to get them on the same page, get them where we need to be so we can be competitive and be up there competing for a championship.”
January won’t have to shoulder the load entirely, as the roster does feature other veterans such as Melissa Coleman, Erlana Larkins and Shenise Johnson, but as Chatman has witnessed, she’s prepared regardless.
“She knows she has help, but she’s definitely the one that’s out in front.”
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