Indiana Fever’s Betnijah Laney is getting her chance

After three years of injuries, being waived, and seeing limited playing time, Laney is finally getting a chance this year in Indiana

Indiana Fever guard Betnijah Laney has been very patient during the last three years of her WNBA career.

She tore her ACL early in the 2016 season.  She was waived by the Sky in 2017 when her knee still wasn’t 100%.  Then she played just nine minutes a game for Connecticut in 2018.

Through it all, she stayed ready.  She kept working hard.  She maintained her commitment to playing lockdown defense.

Now she’s making life miserable for the players she defends.  Her defense is a big reason the Fever’s first seven games in 2019 have been light years better than their first six games in 2018.

“It was just staying patient and sticking with it and not letting setbacks define what my outcome will be,” Laney said before the Fever’s game against Phoenix on Sunday.  “By me sticking with it and not giving up, that’s what got me back here.”

Laney is tied for second in the WNBA with 2.1 steals per game.  She is also third on the team with 4.9 rebounds per game.  Laney had a career-high 11 rebounds during Indiana’s win at Dallas on Thursday, which shattered her previous career high of seven.

Her intensity on defense and on the glass is a big reason the Fever have been much-improved on the defensive end compared to last year.  Last season, the Fever ranked last in opponent field goal percentage.  This season, the Fever had a higher shooting percentage than their opponent in each of their first four games.  That streak ended on Sunday when Phoenix shot 45.9% and Indiana shot 44.4%.

While Indiana’s defensive rating took a hit after giving up 94 points to Phoenix, Laney is a reason why the Fever players feel much more prideful about their defense compared to a year ago.  Laney wasn’t in Indiana last year, but she’s been impressed with her new teammates’ commitment on the defensive end.

“I think our communication has been really good and we’ve been able to trust one another, knowing that we have each other’s back, knowing that we can be aggressive because somebody will be there for us,” Laney said.  “Our defense is what has led to our offense, you know, being able to get out in transition and … keep the pace up.”

Laney has been a defensive-minded player for a long time.  She said her mom emphasized the importance of defense when she was young.  Then Laney played for C. Vivian Stringer at Rutgers, where Laney said most of the time in practice was spent working on defense.

Indiana Fever guard Betnijah Laney was signed for her defense, but she’s not afraid to battle for rebounds too. Here, she fights for rebounding position during a game against New York on June 1, 2019. After five games, Laney is second on the Fever with seven offensive rebounds. Photo by Kimberly Geswein

Now, Laney has the utmost respect for the offensive talent of her WNBA opponents.  She loves the challenge of trying to stop them.

“At the highest level, everyone will be able to make a layup, everybody will be able to hit a jump shot.  It’s just can you stop someone from doing it,” Laney said.

This attitude is exactly why Pokey Chatman signed Laney as a free agent on February 5.  Chatman drafted Laney in 2015 when she coached Chicago.  Even before the season started, Chatman heard Fever players raving about Laney’s defense.

“We signed her for (defense),” Chatman said before the Phoenix game. “And I will be the first to admit that she has exceeded that early.  It didn’t take her any time to get comfortable.”

Laney, who was the 2018-2019 WNBL Defensive Player of the Year in Australia, is also happy to be back with the coach who drafted her.

“It felt really good to be back with people I’ve played for and who drafted me,” Laney said. “For them to have that confidence in me and bring me in was really great.”

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