Courtside with Betnijah Laney
An unfiltered Q&A with WNBA players — past and present.
Hello and welcome to Courtside.
Take a break from the game. Pull up a chair. Settle in. Have some water. And relax.
As often as I can, I’ll be bringing you honest, revealing and fun Q&As with some of the greatest players in WNBA history as well as rookies, veterans and All-Stars in the league today.
Now and again, I’ll also be posting columns focusing on what’s happening in the WNBA or sharing my thoughts about basketball-related current events, issues, and/or players in the news cycle.
Now, let’s get to the conversation.
Betnijah Laney, 27, is a WNBA All-Star guard for the New York Liberty. She spent four years at Rutgers University, evolving under legendary coach Vivian Stringer. In college, Laney’s on-court production and overall stats improved every single year. As a senior, she averaged a double-double with 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
“I think she’s just grown and developed in every way. She’s grown enough that not only has she tremendously improved as a player but enough as a person that she’s able to give so much wisdom and support to everybody else. She’s selfless. She’s worked hard to win, and everyone knows that. I think that every day that she goes into that locker room, she must have a smile on her face.”
— Rutgers head coach Vivian Stringer on Laney’s evolution at the college level
In the 2015 WNBA Draft, the Chicago Sky selected Laney with the 17th overall pick. She went from playing forward in college to having to relearn the guard position at the pro level. Then, eight games into her second season with the Sky, Laney tore her ACL. After two years of recovery and rehabilitation, she landed with the Connecticut Sun for the 2018 season, playing minimal minutes. In 2019, she suited up for the Indiana Fever. After signing a multi-year contract with the Fever in February 2020, Laney was shockingly waived in June, right before the start of the bubble season. She was picked up by the Atlanta Dream where she blossomed on the court, averaging 33.3 minutes, 17.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game — the highest totals of her pro career — which earned her the award for Most Improved Player.
After exploring her options as a free agent before the 2021 season, Laney signed with the New York Liberty. She has continued to shine on the basketball court, leading the team in scoring with 19 points per game (7th overall in the league) and earning her first All-Star nod. Laney has been a key part of the Liberty’s success this season — both as a leader on and off the court, and as one of the best scorers in the WNBA.
You spent your college career at Rutgers University. What’s the biggest basketball lesson you learned under Vivian Stringer?
I think, just, make sure we’re doing, like, the little things. You know? If that’s hustling, making sure that, you know, we’re paying attention to detail. And, you know, she was really big on that. So, if we had to touch the line (during sprints), you better make sure you touch the line. Like, just things like that. I guess I’d say just the discipline of basketball. The attention to detail in everything that we’re doing. That kind of just really stuck with me. And just work ethic.
I think you’ll find that a lot of the Rutgers players — we all work hard, play hard. You know, we just kind of have that attention to detail, just doing all the little things.
How would you describe your rookie year with the Chicago Sky in 2015?
For me, it was different. It was a bit of a transition, you know, coming in, because in college I played the four (position) all four years. And just to have to make that transition back into the guard was a bit tough for me, because I hadn’t played it in four years. And now I’m at the highest level in a position that I haven’t played in. So, I just kept working at it. You know, I had a great support system and coaches and everything who worked with me, and made feel comfortable in what I was doing and just helped me progress.
In 2016, you suffered an ACL injury after only eight games into the season. What went through your mind when that happened?
Oh my goodness, um . . . I think when I first got the news I just cried, because I didn’t really know, you know, what it would look like. I’ve never had a serious injury before. The most I had was a sprained ankle and I was fine. So, to like have something like that, you know, where it’s season-ending and then just not knowing how I would come back from that.
People who I knew who tore their ACL — I’ve seen people go through it and I know how tough it was for them. So, I just didn’t know what it would look like. I think that was the scariest part. But with that, I grew a greater appreciation for the game, because it was something I wanted to do and I just couldn’t, you know, physically or anything. I just had to, like, sit back and watch. You know, that’s kind of what drove me to continue to work with teams and push to just try and get back, and come back better than I was before.
What was the recovery process like for you both mentally and physically?
It took me over a year and a half. And especially at the pro level, you know, you have to be able to perform. It’s not just — okay, you can sit here and we’ll wait for you to get back. So, it was kind of like just having to make sure, you know, I’m doing everything I can, each and every day, after the surgery. And then I ended up actually having to have a second minor surgery on the same knee right before the next season. So I wasn’t able to play that season (2017), either. I had to go home, went back up to Rutgers to work with the trainers there and everything, and rehab and get ready for the overseas season.
You hopped from the Connecticut Sun in 2018 to the Indiana Fever in 2019 and then found a perfect fit with the Atlanta Dream in 2020. What was it about Atlanta that worked so well?
I think just the freedom, you know, that I had, the confidence that my coaches had in me. You know, my teammates as well. Just that confidence that they had and the freedom just to play my game. And be able to do, you know, what I was capable of and not be put in a box that would not allow me to take off and display my skills.
New York has been another great fit for you and you’re having the best season of your career. What do you love about the team, head coach Walt Hopkins and the organization overall?
Yeah, no, I like everything. It’s just a great group all around. Everybody that I’ve been able to come in contact with, you know, throughout the organization has been nothing but great. You know, just the resources that we have, and just like the feel — it feels more like family. Like, you get that on other teams but it’s just not the same. Just from me bouncing around and knowing what other team dynamics look like, I just love the one that we have here.
We have a great support system all the way around. And we don’t have any drama or anything like that so, like, to not have to deal with any of that, but with us being young and being able to grow, just building our chemistry and getting better, I’m just really excited to see what’s to come in the future.
You’re the seventh leading scorer in the WNBA, eighth in assists, and you’re shooting nearly 50% from the field. Do you feel you’ve been underestimated in the league? Are you playing with a chip on your shoulder?
I mean, I think it’s a little bit of both. You know, obviously when I came in, like I said, I wasn’t totally comfortable in my position. But I think that as I continued to grow, I was still kind of in that box. Right now, I mean, I don’t — I guess you could say I had a chip last year but it was just more of me . . . it was more of a me thing, just trying to prove to myself that I was capable. Because, you know, when you’re put in a box and you’re dealing with different stuff, you kind of doubt yourself a little bit.
But just knowing that I was finally somewhere where they saw what I was capable of, saw my worth, and my potential, it was kind of me proving to myself, like, that this is what I deserve, this is what I’m capable of. Then just proving those people right and everybody, you know, that’s been in my corner from the beginning, and the coaches and everything that I had last year. So, just trying to be my best, just knowing what I’m capable of and displaying it.
What’s something about you that people would be surprised to know or wouldn’t expect?
I’m left handed. I don’t feel, like, a lot of people actually know that — that I’m really left handed. The only thing that I can actually do with my right hand is play basketball. I can’t do anything else with it. I write left handed, eat left handed, brush my teeth, literally anything else that you could imagine that you would do with your hand, I do left handed.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Could be a song, movie, food, etc.?
My guilty pleasure? Chocolate. I love chocolate. Any kind of chocolate. Chocolate covered this, chocolate covered that. Just chocolate.
When playing (in college and/or in the WNBA), did/do you have any pregame rituals or superstitions that you stuck/stick to before every game?
The one thing that I have stuck with before every game, otherwise it kind of throws me off, is a nap. Unless it’s an early game, I have to have a nap. It, like, rejuvenates me. I have a nap and then I have a coffee. I need an hour at least.
Spread the ball around
If you enjoy Courtside and the additional insight into WNBA players on and off the court, pass it along to a few of your WNBA-loving friends. They might enjoy it, too!
Get in touch
If there’s a player you’d like me to have a Courtside chat with, let me know. And if you have any burning questions you’d like them to answer, suggest one or two. I will try to slip it into the conversation!