A normal training camp atmosphere would include a mixture of veteran players, recent draft selections, and often a few undrafted players attempting to make a team’s final roster. In the midst of a pandemic, and with a condensed season on the horizon, many teams had to make decisions surrounding their rosters without the usual training camp.
“The Indiana Fever announced guard Betnijah Laney was released by the team today.” That was the shocking message on June 17th from the Fever as they inched closer to tip-off of the 2020 WNBA season. How could a starter that brought the defensive intensity suddenly be waived? That remains a mystery.
An unsigned Laney would only last for seven days.
Exactly a week later, the Atlanta Dream decided that they could benefit from Laney’s services to help soften the blow of their recent opt-outs.
“Betnijah is an important pick up for us because of her experience and her tenacity at both ends of the floor,” said head coach Nicki Collen in the Dream’s official announcement. On a team that included several young players, Laney’s experience was sure to be valued.
“She will give us size and versatility at the defensive end of the floor as we look for ways to absorb the loss of all-defensive player Tiffany Hayes” Collen added. “She will also help create pace and extra possessions on offense as she is relentless on the glass. Betnijah is coming off an incredibly productive campaign in Israel and we are excited to welcome her to the Dream.”
In scrimmages leading up to the season-opener, the Dream’s decision to sign Laney had already seemed to be a potential win for them.
“Laney was the best player on our team today” Collen said during media availability. “She plays with a ton of energy, and right now she’s making her pull-up jump shots.”
Scrimmages tend to be more lax environments than games and are often referred to as glorified practices. They’re also known for not necessarily getting the most out of an opponent’s best players, so how would Laney’s play translate into games that … “mattered.”
Speaking to the media during a recent postgame, she gave a little insight into what helped her game during the offseason.
“Gyms were closed so I did a lot of outside things. Even to get into a basketball gym, I had to travel. I went to a few places where I knew someone was able to get me into a gym so that way I could work out and on my ball handling and shooting. Other than that, it was just a lot of outside workouts.” That must be the key – those outside workouts.
Tallying career highs in nearly every statistical category so far this season, it may be safe to say that her play has translated well from the pre-season to official gameplay. As of August 6th, Laney has averages of 17.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.5 apg, and 2.33 spg. She currently ranks in the Top 10 of the league in points, steals, efficiency along with minutes played. Her turnovers have increased to over 3pg, but that can be attributed to more possessions and greater offensive responsibility.
So far, Laney has looked like a different player than what we have previously seen.
This season has seen its fair share of breakout performers. Always appreciative of the moment, Laney chose not to take all the credit.
“It feels good to be recognized for everything that I’m doing,” Laney said. “It’s the opportunity that I’ve been given. God has blessed me with this team, and I am just thankful to be here and to play for a coach who believes in my game on both ends of the court and is standing behind me. It feels good.”
Before the season, when asked about what team/player she was looking forward to playing, Laney laughed, paused, and answered with, “the Fever.”
Could there be some sort of a chip on her shoulder this season to prove she belongs? Very possible. That “chip” now has her as one of the frontrunners for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award. She’s long been known as a defensive player, but even that has been elevated this season. Should her stats hold, there’s the potential of All-Defensive awards as well.
When asked about her “Welcome to the WNBA” moment, Laney responded with, “Maya Moore. Angel McCoughtry. Seimone Augustus. Those were the players I had to be zoned in on and nothing else mattered.”
While maybe not yet at the notoriety of those players, Laney has definitely earned her spot at the top of the opposing team’s scouting report.