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Smyrna grad Laney honored by WNBA after Dream season

Kevin Tresolini
Delaware News Journal

Betnijah Laney’s breakout basketball season has received the ultimate compliment.

The 6-foot Atlanta Dream swing guard out of Smyrna High was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player on Thursday.

In her fifth WNBA season and playing for her fourth team, Laney averaged career highs of 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.6 steals and 33.3 minutes while starting every game as Atlanta went 7-15 and didn’t make the WNBA playoffs.

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Before this year, Laney had averaged 3.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.7 steals in her WNBA career, which consisted of two seasons in Chicago and one each with Connecticut and Indiana. A second-round draft choice out of Rutgers in 2015 by Chicago, Laney missed the 2017 season after tearing her ACL the previous year.

Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale (24) shoots as Atlanta Dream guard Betnijah Laney, the Smyrna High grad, defends during the second half of a WNBA game on Aug. 10, 2020 in Bradenton, Florida.

Laney received 25 of 47 votes from a national media panel to edge out Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen, who had 21 votes. The Most Improved award earns Laney $5,150.

“She just showed that she can score at all three levels,” Atlanta coach Nicki Collen told dream.wnba.com recently. “It just happened organically. I think the more consistent she was, the more her teammates trusted her and the more, all of a sudden, we were running first plays for her. She just became a big part of our offensive package in terms of what we run and what’s in our playbook.” 

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Laney scored a career-high 35 against Washington Aug. 19 and two days later dealt a career-best 11 assists against Los Angeles.

"That first workout that I did with Nikki and [assistant Mike Petersen]," Laney said Thursday, "she pulled me aside, stopped me in the middle, and was like 'I didn't know you could shoot like that.' She told me that she wanted me to shoot it until I proved that I couldn't and I'm like 'OK.' 

Atlanta Dream guard Betnijah Laney, out of Smyrna High, sets up for a shot during the second half of a WNBA basketball game against the Dallas Wings in Bradenton, Florida.

"It's something that I've always worked on but it was just more so about having the opportunity," added Laney, long known primarily as a defensive stopper.

She shot career highs of 48.1 percent from the field and 40.5 percent on 3-pointers.

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Laney’s season also included being involved in helping her teammates and WNBA counterparts express their feelings about social justice and racial inequality after May’s death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis policeman.

The Dream is co-owned by U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who spoke out against “Black Lives Matter” and WNBA demonstrations on race-related issues.

“I’m happy to be part of a league that is supporting us and supporting our stand, especially with being predominantly Black,” Laney told Delaware Online/The News Journal in August. “They’re letting us use our voices to speak up about things that matter, that hit home for us, that we feel strongly about.”

Have an idea for a compelling local sports story or is there an issue that needs public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at ktresolini@delawareonline.com and follow on Twitter @kevintresolini. Support local journalism by subscribing to delawareonline.com.