Betnijah Laney’s Path to the Top of the WNBA

The 27-year-old is playing the best basketball of her career.

By Alex Holmes

Throughout the WNBA’s history, it has been common to watch the league’s best players establish themselves as elite early on in their careers. They are typically a year or two removed from hearing their names called as a lottery pick in the draft before earning their first accolades. Think Diana Taurasi and Seimone Augustus, who both followed up going No. 1 overall in their draft classes with rookie of the year honors in their first season. Then you have what some may call ‘late-bloomers.’ New York Liberty’s Betnijah Laney falls in the latter category.

 (Source: @nyliberty, Twitter)

Her long-awaited path to league prominence has featured an ACL tear, team waivers, and plenty of international hoops. Meet forward Betnijah Laney, the WNBA’s hottest player whose rising path to WNBA stardom tells a story of quiet resilience.

Her name is Betnijah. People often mispronounce her name and say bet-nye-juh, but for the record, since we can expect to hear her name a lot this season, it’s pronounced buh-NAW-juh.

Betnijah Laney, who hails from Clayton, Delaware, arrived at Rutgers as the No. 11 overall recruit in ESPN’s Class of 2011. Laney established herself as a tough defender and a physical scorer who consistently improved her perimeter game before coming to Piscataway and joining C. Vivian Stringer’s program. Her 6-foot frame helped her stand out to college scouts, but it would be her persistent, gritty work ethic that prepared her for the college game and beyond.

Betnijah Laney was named first team All-Big Ten and earned AP Honorable Mention honors during her senior season at Rutgers in 2015. (Source: Will Schneekloth, Rutgers Athletics)

Laney thrived at Rutgers. She was a constant in Stringer’s lineup all four years, starting 107 of 129 games, but it wasn’t until her senior year that she burst onto the national scene, averaging a double-double at 15.8 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game in the 2014-2015 season. Laney was named to first team All-Big Ten and ended her college career with AP Honorable Mention honors.

Her senior year performance at Rutgers boosted her WNBA draft stock. Shortly after her college career ended, the Chicago Sky selected Laney as the No. 17 pick in the second round of the 2015 WNBA Draft.

In her rookie season, Laney averaged 2.9 points per game and made her only playoff appearance in the Eastern Conference semifinals. She capped off her first year of professional ball by playing for the Perth Lynx in the Australian League, where she averaged 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. With one year of pro ball under her belt, Laney was set to continue developing as a mainstay for the Sky until the eighth game of her second season in Chicago, when she tore her left ACL in 2016.

In February of 2017, the Sky waived Laney from their program as she was recovering from her ACL tear. Laney’s first setback in her pro career resulted in her release from the team, but she continued to recover and train while away from the WNBA. She returned to Australia for the 2017-2018 season, making her first pro appearance since her injury.

Through six games, Laney leads the Liberty in scoring and minutes. (Source: @nyliberty, Twitter)

Laney fine-tuned her skills with the Bendigo Spirit in the A-League before returning stateside for take two in the WNBA. This time around, she signed with the Connecticut Sun. Laney’s averages took a slight dip with the Sun, scoring 2.7 points per game. Her team finished in fourth place and made it to the second round of the WNBA playoffs in 2018. Laney, now accustomed to playing overseas in the offseason, went back to Australia where she was named the 2018-2019 A-League Defensive Player of the Year with the Dandenong Rangers.

After returning from Australia during the spring of 2019, Laney seemed to turn the corner in the WNBA, this time with the Indiana Fever. She appeared in all 34 games and doubled her averages from the previous season, notching 5.6 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game. She followed her best WNBA season yet with a dominant campaign in Israel for the 2019-2020 season. Laney averaged 19.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 7.1 assists per game.

Amidst the chaos during the spring and early summer of 2020, Laney was waived from the Fever and then signed with the Atlanta Dream in June 2020. Her time in the ‘Wubble’ was well spent—Laney nearly tripled her scoring average and nearly quadrupled her assists. She shot a blistering 48.1% from the field and averaged 17.2 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.0 assists last season en route to making the league’s All-Defensive First Team and earning the WNBA’s Most Improved Player honor.

Laney leads a talented, young roster that features second year star player Sabrina Ionescu, left. (Source: WNBA)

Her breakout 2020 season captured the attention of the New York Liberty, a program rebuilding with young talent. Laney picked up right where she left off last season. Through six games, she is fourth in the league in scoring and owns a team-best 22.7 points per game and has played the most minutes on her team, averaging 34.2 minutes per contest. Thanks in large part to Laney’s play alongside a talented corps of youngsters, including Sabrina Ionescu and Michaela Onyenwere, the Liberty sit in first place in the WNBA with a 5–1 record.

Laney is in pursuit of her first playoff appearance since 2018 and the Liberty are looking for their first postseason berth since 2017. The Liberty have not won the WNBA championship in its history and have not made an appearance in the Finals since 2002. After three consecutive losing seasons, the Liberty seem to have the right pieces at the right time, and Laney has become the leading piece to the puzzle.

Six seasons into her professional career, Betnijah Laney is the hottest player in the league. After battling through an ACL tear, being waived from two teams, and using overseas hoops to improve, Laney has finally arrived to league prominence. Spring is coming to an end and summer is right around the corner, but Betnijah Laney is entering her full bloom.

 The Liberty will next face the Las Vegas Aces, tonight at 7 P.M. The game will air live on the YES App. The 2021 New York Liberty schedule is available here.

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