The Return of January

January is back. And no – your summer isn’t being cut short, but your wait for Indiana Fever guard Briann January is.

January returned to the lineup last Wednesday (Jun. 1) in an 85-75 home win against the Seattle Storm. The long-awaited return culminated in four points and three steals for January in just 15 minutes, but a victory nonetheless. Just stepping foot on the court in Bankers Life Fieldhouse was relief in itself.

“I can’t even explain the feeling,” January said of the applause she got when returning to the court. “I tried not to really take it in until after the game. Clearly I didn’t have my game legs yet, but we’re working there.”

January had surgery on her right knee after tearing her meniscus in Game 5 of last year’s WNBA Finals. After an MRI revealed the meniscus tear, it also was determined that microfracture surgery was needed. Had the Fever outlasted Minnesota, January was on track for Finals MVP with 15.4 points and 5.4 assists per game in the series. Instead, she spent the winter months preparing for another opportunity.

All three of the Fever appearances in the WNBA Finals (2009, 2012, 2015) have come with January at the point. Getting back there is the goal, but a more difficult offseason brought a new challenge.

“It was mentally and physically demanding,” January said. “It really tested me. The six weeks of non weight-bearing was really tough. And then I wasn’t able to do agility; no running, jumping or changing directions until six months.

“For me, I’m a busy body. I love working out and I love being on the court. All I could do was stand there and form shoot and ball handle in a chair.”

The other young Fever guards have played well in her absence – Erica Wheeler has averaged 9.3 points and 2.9 assists per game to start the season – but the experience and chemistry with the veterans is hard to replace.

“I think having Bri back just kind of calms everything,” Tamika Catchings said. “She ended last year so well. To have to come back and work so hard through the offseason is tough. Once she gets more and more comfortable, our team will get better and better.”

It’s understood that the veteran Catchings is the team’s emotional leader in her final season. January could be classified as leader 1A, poised to be the face of the franchise come 2017.

“Being the point guard and the floor general, she’s definitely one of our leaders and we all benefit having her back,” Erlana Larkins said. “This is my fifth season playing with her as well as playing together overseas. We’ve continued to build chemistry and she gives us that leadership at point.”

The Fever are 2-1 since January’s return and 1-0 when she starts, including an 88-77 win against Connecticut in the most recent game last Sunday where she poured in eight points and five assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor.

“Everyday, things get better,” January said. “The flow gets better. My lungs get better. It’s easier to navigate out there. The game is starting to slow down again.”

In three games back, January boasts an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.5 (11-2). She’s slowly returning to form. Fortunately for the Fever, they can score from anywhere, and there’s no pressure on January to try and do too much.

“Anytime you come back from surgery, you have to put in a lot of hard work, but you also have to be patient,” head coach Stephanie White said.

Wheeler’s ability to soften the workload has allowed January to patiently ease her way back. With depth reaching to the end of the bench, this Fever squad has three players averaging double figures (Mitchell, Catchings, Johnson) and 10 of 12 averaging more than five points per game.

So ease back into it, Bri. The Fever are hoping January can run from June to October this year.