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Betnijah Laney's hard work for Liberty puts her in MVP conversation

Liberty's Betnijah Laney (23 points) is defended by

Liberty's Betnijah Laney (23 points) is defended by Aces center Liz Cambage in first half on Thursday, June 3, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Betnijah Laney’s contributions have been seen all over the court and locker room for the Liberty, so much so that her name has received some early buzz for the MVP award one season after winning the Most Improved Player Award.

"I don’t like to focus on that kind of stuff," said Laney, who was the WNBA’s MIP with Atlanta. "I like to just play. If I’m playing and I’m playing well and doing everything that I need to do, things like that will come just based off of my play."

The Liberty were 2-20 in 2020. They were 7-6 heading into Tuesday night’s game against Chicago at Barclays Center. They have come to depend on their new star after signing her away from Atlanta.

That had especially been the case lately with Natasha Howard out because of a knee injury and Sabrina Ionescu’s left ankle tendinitis sidelining her for two games and then limiting her these last three.

Laney arrived for work averaging 19.9 points per game, good for fifth in the league. The sixth-year, 6-foot guard/forward out of Rutgers was also handing out 5.3 assists, good for seventh. She was chipping in with 4.1 rebounds and shooting 50% from the floor, including 35.4 on threes. She also has become a vocal leader.

The one negative has been turnovers. She was averaging 4.3, the second-highest in the league. That includes a season-high nine in the win at Los Angeles Sunday, when she also scored her 1,000th point.

But with increased production, there has come added attention from the other teams’ defense.

"Right now, I’m just trying to really focus on continuing to try to be myself," Laney said, "be everything that I can for the team and not get outside of that, not try to do more than I need to, because I do have a lot of help."

Laney has bounced around the league, from Chicago., which originally made her a second-round pick in 2015, to Connecticut, to Indiana, to Atlanta. She tore an ACL with Chicago in 2016. Both the Sky and the Fever waived her.

She took off with the Dream in 2020, averaging 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists and claiming All-Defensive First Team honors to go with MIP.

Now she might be in line for another honor. The All-Star Game will be July 14 in Las Vegas.

"I’ve worked really hard to get to this moment," Laney said. "So I think [it’s voters] just understanding everything it took for me to get here, just my background, being waived and coming back, and just staying resilient through the process."

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