WNBA Power Rankings: Aces reclaim No. 1, Lynx climb and a look at Briann January's legacy

ByMechelle Voepel via ESPN logo
Monday, August 1, 2022
ESPN

Coaches will tell players the importance of never giving up on a play as long as there are sports. But there's nothing like seeing it to believe it. Seattle Storm guard Briann January, who will retire at the end of the 2022 WNBA season after 14 years in the league, embodies that kind of hustle. As we release our penultimate WNBA Power Rankings this week, we also pay tribute to January. The 5-foot-8 guard made many such plays, but one stands out as the biggest of her career.

January, an Arizona State standout, was part of the 2009 draft class that had one of the best first rounds in WNBA history. Angel McCoughtry, Marissa Coleman, Kristi Toliver, Renee Montgomery, DeWanna Bonner, January, Courtney Paris and Kia Vaughn were picks 1-8. Selected at No. 11 was Shavonte Zellous, who would combine with January on the play that helped the Indiana Fever reach their biggest accomplishment in franchise history.

In 2012, the Connecticut Sun had the Eastern Conference's best record at 25-9, while Indiana was second at 22-12. Both Tamika Catchings and fellow Fever star Katie Douglas had turned 33 earlier that year, and both knew their championship window was starting to close.

In the East finals (under the old playoff format), the Fever were down 0-1 in their best-of-three series with the Sun. Late in a tight Game 2 battle in Indiana, the Sun tied the score at 76 but missed a free throw attempt on a three-point play, and Catchings grabbed the rebound.

Catchings, who saw January break in front and streak toward the basket, heaved a perfect pass while falling that hit January in stride. She went in for the layup untouched, but her shot was a little hard off the glass and the ball rolled out. January immediately chased after it, and then went diving into the courtside seats to tip the ball back to Zellous.

Zellous had made just one field goal that night, but her foul-line jumper swished with five-tenths of a second left. The Fever evened the series and went on to win Game 3 at Connecticut and then upset the defending champion Minnesota Lynx, the team with the league's best record, in the WNBA Finals.

If January had hesitated while lamenting her missed shot, the ball likely would have gone out of bounds to Connecticut with just over four seconds left, giving the Sun a chance to win and close out the series. Who knows what might have happened if the game had gone to overtime. Instead, the Fever got an emotional win and rode that wave to their title, even overcoming Douglas' injury in Game 3 at Connecticut that kept her from competing in the Finals.

January averaged 10.3 points and 3.9 assists that 2012 regular season, and 11.5 and 3.8 in the playoffs. But defense has been even more her calling card: She's a five-time WNBA all-defensive first-team honoree, including 2012 and last year, and has twice been named to the second team.

January made two other WNBA Finals appearances with the Fever, in 2009 and 2015. She spent 2018 and '19 with the Phoenix Mercury, 2020 and '21 with Connecticut and will finish her career with Seattle.

"I was really excited when we were able to get her in free agency," Storm forwardBreanna Stewartsaid. "She's tough and gritty and just never stops working. Whenever her number is called, she's ready to fight. And at the same time, she's such a great leader and has a great presence in the locker room, where she's always continuing to help others."

The Storm clinched a playoff spot Saturday, and while it's going to be a very competitive postseason, January and teammate Sue Bird, who is also retiring, have a chance to win another title. But that 2012 championship and January's diving play to help save Indiana's magical season will always be remembered fondly by Fever and WNBA fans.

After that East Game 2 victory, January summed up the play matter-of-factly: "We're going to give everything we have. That buzzer hadn't sounded. You play until that thing goes off."

It's the way January has always played the game.

Previous rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 |

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