Laney becomes captain in junior season, looks to lead Knights with improved shooting, ball-handling
Betnijah Laney never wanted to be in the spotlight.
In her first two seasons starting at forward for the Rutgers women’s basketball team, Laney admits she felt nervous around veteran players. She collected rebounds, scored points and kept to herself.
Now a junior captain, the Clayton, Del., native’s vocal presence has become a necessity for a team with only four upperclassmen and no seniors.
“Before I used to be anxious and just wanted to go play,” Laney said. “But I now noticed what I needed to work on and what I needed to do so that we can succeed, and that I can be the captain that my team needs to be.”
With the frontcourt graduations of Monique Oliver and Chelsey Lee, Laney’s thrust to the forefront of the Scarlet Knights’ post play seems inevitable.
Her steadily improving numbers — 9.7 points and five rebounds per game last season — will likely rise.
But Laney understands the role of captain on the court does not entail playing hero ball or trying to do too much.
“I don’t feel pressured,” Laney said. “It’s something that I’m embracing, and one of my focuses this year is to lead the team, but also make sure that everyone else is on the same page. So it’s not going to be like, ‘Oh, this is my turn. It’s my show.’”
Laney said her mentality makeover started immediately after Rutgers’ elimination from the Big East Tournament in March.
She knew during the summer she would need to take charge and began rallying the team, helping bond the Knights and ensure there would be no problems this season in the locker room.
Sophomore guard Kahleah Copper noticed a distinct change in Laney’s demeanor.
“Betnijah’s definitely stepped it up to be really a good leader,” Copper said. “She really noticed this year it was really her time to step it up because we have no seniors, and she has the most experience out of everybody being a starter.”
Yet she does not take that experience for granted.
Laney still wants to expand her own repertoire, trying to become a more versatile threat on the offense.
She said she has worked on her ball handling and shooting to become more of an all-around threat for a Rutgers team that shot only 41 percent from the field last season. Laney also wants to become a better on-ball defender.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer likes what she sees and expects Laney to see more time on the wing this season.
“She was playing more as an inside player,” Stringer said of Laney’s role last season. “She’s outside, she’s comfortable in playing the outside position and now she has the flexibility and the versatility to play inside or outside.”
For Stringer, Laney’s maturity signals something much greater.
“By the end of the year, it was very obvious to us that this is a freshman and sophomore class that is now juniors and sophomores — they began to take the bull by the horns,” Stringer said. “The initiative that they had in practicing on their own and conditioning on their own … there are a lot of factors I think that speak to our growth. And one of which was Betnijah coming into her junior year.”
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