February 7, 2022
How Betnijah Laney returned to USA Basketball for the first time since 2013
'It’s great to be recognized for my efforts, Laney said, and to be around a lot of great players'
This weekend’s USA Basketball training camp in Washington, D.C., marked a return to national team circles for Betnijah Laney. The 6′ New York Liberty forward has not played with the national program in nearly a decade.
“It’s great to be recognized for my efforts,” the 28-year-old Laney said. “To be around a lot of really great players, everything USA Basketball stands for, to be back and re-acclimated to that. It’s been a long time since I have been in a team environment. To be here now and to be able to see everyone compete, it’s really nice.”
Laney played with a torn meniscus last WNBA season and elected to have surgery in November. Thus, she was not playing in full contact drills. However, she did say she expects to return to full strength for the Liberty’s training camp.
Laney’s first involvement with Team USA was at the 2009 FIBA Americas Under-16 Championships in Mexico City. She was third on the team in scoring, en route to winning the gold medal. The following year, she won gold at the 2010 FIBA Under-17 World Cup in France.
She was in the final 15 players vying for spots on the 2011 Under-19 World Cup team. Midway through her Rutgers career, she participated in the trials to make the World University Games in 2013. However, the Delaware native slipped off the radar with the senior national team.
In 2020 with the Atlanta Dream, Laney’s scoring average more than tripled from 5.6 to 17. 2 points per game. This dramatic incline resulted in the WNBA Most Improved Player Award. She was also a member of the all-defensive team. This past season in New York, she was an All-Star and averaged 16.8 points and a personal-best 5.2 assists.
“My hard work and resiliency are consistent,” Laney said. “I am always looking to get better, and now that I am back, I can’t practice and stuff, but I am just trying to do everything that I can to just bring any value to the team, so it’s good. I have been being vocal, trying to communicate to cheer everybody on, but with the non-contact stuff, I make sure I give all of the effort.”
New Team USA head coach Cheryl Reeve mentioned that she enjoyed being around Laney in training camp, despite the limitations on analyzing her.
“She’s won at a variety of levels,” Laney added about Reeve, “so it’s nice to see her coaching style. I am just enjoying the experience.”
Laney’s rapid improvement in recent years, combined with her willingness to train, despite her injury, garnered respect from other players vying for a spot on the World Cup roster.
“Betnijah is a wonderful basketball player,” Olympic 3X3 champion Kelsey Plum said. “Watching her in the W this year, she just gave people nightmares. She is a matchup nightmare, she’s a big three, she can shoot the ball, she can post you up, and she is just trying to get back her rhythm. It’s tough when you have offseason surgery, and you’re trying to work your way back, you don’t want to rush it, you want to be smart and think long term, so I have no doubt, she will be ready to play once the season is ready.”
The U.S. will play Belgium on Friday and Puerto Rico on Saturday in the event. The 12-player roster will consist of: Plum, Jewell Loyd, Ariel Atkins, Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray, Chelsea Gray, Natasha Howard, Brionna Jones, Kayla McBride, Kelsey Mitchell, Dearica Hamby, and Alyssa Thomas. It will finalize the roster for September’s World Cup in Sydney at a later date.
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.