WNBA player Betnijah Laney was honored at the Smyrna High School girls basketball game Friday night as the school retired her #44 jersey in a ceremony with Laney, her mother, former coaches and mentors, and school administrators.
Laney said seeing everyone brought back many fond memories.
“I remember all the support I had from fans, coaches, teachers and administrators,” she said. “This is such an honor. It’s a great feeling and it makes me proud that all these people think that I deserve this.”
Her favorite memory from Smyrna High, although somewhat bittersweet, was reaching the state championship game with the Eagles in her junior year in 2010 – the only time the girls team has played in the title game. Smyrna fell to Sanford.
“In my senior year, we also had a great season, and we made it to the semifinals,” she said. “We had a really solid team – a lot of great players.”
Her former varsity coach at Smyrna High, James Kiger, said Laney had the ability to make everyone around her better.
“When she scored, defenses would try to double team her which would leave others open. In addition to being a great scorer she was a very underrated passer. If you were open she'd get you the ball,” Kiger said. “Finally, when we needed her to, she could just step up her game to a whole different level. She would be the one to draw a foul, get a rebound or hit a shot exactly when we needed her to.”
She also led by example during practice.
“So many kids come in and just shoot around aimlessly. Betnijah had a particular pre-practice routine she did every day to hone her skills. I could always point to the fact that she got the accolades she did because she worked at it,” Kiger said. “Whenever we ran in practice, and we ran a lot, Betnijah was always, and I mean always first across the line in sprints. Nothing was handed to her. She worked for everything she has gotten.”
Kiger said while he feels privileged to have coached Laney, he also wonders what might have been if he could have figured out some adjustments to make in those state tournament losses to turn the games around.
“I have never watched the tape of those games because I felt so bad for her that I couldn't help get her the state title,” said Kiger. “It would be my only regret ever in regard to her – well, one more: I could never beat her in one-on-one, horse, around the world or foul shooting, but hey, she’s a pro and I'm just an old man!”
He said he wasn’t surprised at all when Laney made it to the WNBA.
“It was a goal she set with great planning and hard work. As a coach who had a very small role in her development, it gives me a great sense of pride to see her live her dream,” said Kiger. “The great thing about it though is that she is still just Beanie, my nickname for her. Every time you see her it is just the same girl I met in 2009 when I came back to Smyrna High School to coach her.”
Laney’s basketball career
Before playing professional basketball with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, Laney averaged 23.7 points, 10 rebounds, 4.4 steals and 4.3 assists per game as a senior at Smyrna back in 2011. In her junior and senior years, she led the team to a 43-5 record.
She still holds the Delaware single-game scoring record of 52 points for five-on-five girls basketball. (Years ago, girls basketball in Delaware was a six-on-six game.)
Laney became the first female basketball player at Smyrna to reach 1,000 career points, and then the first to reach the 2,000 milestone, ending her four years on Smyrna’s varsity team with 2,198 total points. Laney was named Delaware Gatorade Player of the Year twice in 2010 and 2011 and earned a spot on the McDonald’s All-American team her senior season.
She moved on to play at Rutgers University, where she started 107 games. She was named to the Big East All-Freshman team in 2012, named Second Team American Athletic Conference in 2014 and earned First-Team All-Conference honors in 2015 when the Scarlet Knights moved to the Big Ten Conference. In her senior season, she averaged 15.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
Laney was selected 17th overall in the 2015 WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky. After her rookie season with the Sky, Laney signed with the Perth Lynx of the WNBL (Women’s National Basketball League) where she averaged 15 points per game, with eight rebounds and four assists in 27 games.
She returned to the Sky for the 2016 WNBA season but tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee during a game in June, and couldn’t play for the rest of the season.
However, she has been cleared by the medical staff for one-on-one workouts and expects to return to the team in about a month.
“My rookie year was amazing,” said Laney “We had a really good run and to be around such great players and learn from them is an incredible opportunity.”
However, one WNBA superstar on her team, Elena Delle Donne who is also from Delaware, has just been traded to the Washington Mystics, so that will be a difficult to position to fill.
“Elena was a great teammate and a great person, and I wish her all the best,” said Laney. “Right now, I’m looking forward to rejoining the team and working hard and contributing to help us win.”