Just four games into the Chicago Sky's 2015 WNBA season defensive-stopper Tamera Young was sidelined by a torn ligament in her right thumb. Sky Coach Pokey Chatman is no stranger to dealing with injured players and employs a "next man up" mentality to her roster.
Next in line to do the team's dirty work was rookie Betnijah Laney. The 6-foot forward from Rutgers was selected by Chicago 17th overall in the 2015 WNBA Draft. Laney is a gritty player with an esteemed basketball background.
Laney played four years at Rutgers for Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer, who also coached Laney's mother, Yolanda, at Cheyney State. Yolanda Laney was an All-American point guard that appeared in two Final Fours. Betnijah Laney's basketball pedigree is pristine.
In her final season as a Scarlet Knight Laney averaged 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds while playing out of position at power forward. That level of toughness is what attracted Pokey Chatman to Laney and has allowed the second round pick to see meaningful minutes on the court for the Sky.
Laney ranks twelfth among rookies in scoring, eleventh in rebounding, seventh in steals, and ninth in minutes played. The stat sheet will not always be an indicator of Laney's impact on the game. Her aggressiveness and defensive mindset does not go unnoticed by her teammates and coaching staff.
While still adjusting to the pros Betnijah Laney been called on to guard the premier scorers in the WNBA. She's held her own against offensive juggernauts Angel McCoughtry and Tamika Catchings, and was recently called on to start to defend the reigning league MVP, Maya Moore.
That's a lot to ask of a rookie, but Laney has earned the playing time and is more than up for the challenge.
Swish Appeal: Did you ever anticipate that you'd be starting in your rookie season?
Betnijah Laney: Not exactly, especially hearing things that I was told to get ready to prepare me for my rookie season. "Just be ready. You might not play, it all depends on what's going on." I've been working hard, and obviously that's something that's carried over into the games and coaches have seen that and she made her decision.
SA: What did Pokey tell you she needs from you night in and night out?
BL: Just all the little things - rebounding, play defense, but not just to think "defense", think offensively as well. Just to stay relaxed and go with the flow.
SA: Who has been the toughest person to guard so far?
BL: I would say Maya [Moore]. Not only is she a great player but also the refs and everything are all on her side so...
SA: [Laughs] Shhhhh! Don't say that!
BL: [Laughs] It is what it is. Whether it is like that or not she still puts it in the basket so what can you really do?
SA: Take me back to draft night. How'd you feel when your name was called?
BL: I was really excited. I was out eating. Before they called my name I spoke to the coach and she was like, "Look, we're drafting you," and I couldn't even talk! I was just so excited and overwhelmed with joy. It was a great feeling.
SA: The Sky fans love you already for your defense, what part of your game are you working the most on right now?
BL: Coming out of college I played the four. Right now I'm transitioning into getting back to the guard, so I've been working on my handling, and shooting - everything that a wing player does. That's the biggest part right now that I'm working on.
SA: Do you feel more comfortable playing the four position?
BL: Right now I'm not playing the four, so it's not really easy to say. I'm definitely a lot more comfortable than I was coming in to start the WNBA season. I'm a lot more comfortable on the wing than I was. It's something that I'm working on, and the coaches have done a great job of working on that with me.
SA: Have any of the vets taken you under their wing and helped you out?
BL: They all pretty much help out where I'm concerned. They're always telling me different things, especially T [Tamera Young] because she's not out there playing. She always has me under her wing telling me, "Maybe you should do this," "Don't do that," "Be aware." She's done a great job helping me out.
SA: What's your relationship like with your fellow Rutgers's alum, Cappie?
BL: She's older than me. We're fine on the court and everything. She's another one that's been helping me out. When we first started she said, "Me and you are gonna sit down and make sure we know the personnel," just little things like that to make sure I'm prepared and ready for the game.
SA: What's your favorite thing about Chicago so far?
SA: Have you gotten out at all?
BL: Not downtown Chicago. I've been downtown where we stay at, and it's nice. I like to walk around and see all the things that it has to offer. The food is really good. We have a lot of different choices, so it's good.