The Dream’s Betnijah Laney chosen WNBA’s Most Improved Player

Dream coach Nicki Collen signed Betnijah Laney to play defense.

After Tiffany Hayes opted out of the 2020 WNBA season, Collen knew the Dream would need to replace Hayes' talents on defense. She keyed in on Laney, who had just been waived by the Indiana Fever, as the right player to fill that hole.

But when Laney arrived for workouts in Atlanta before the team headed to Florida for the season, she kept making shots, and she never stopped.

On Thursday, the WNBA named Laney the league’s Most Improved Player for the 2020 season. She is the second Dream player to win the award, joining Elizabeth Williams, who won in 2016. Laney set new career highs in nearly every statistical category, with an average of 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, four assists and 1.6 steals per game.

“She was so consistent from workouts to training camp to scrimmages that even though, in some ways, I was surprised to see it carry over (in games). She had created this consistency and confidence in what she was doing and how she was doing it,” Collen told the AJC. “... I really wanted this for her. I know how hard she worked for it."

After not scoring more than 20 points in a game during her previous four seasons, Laney did it seven times this season and scored 30-plus points twice while starting every game for the Dream and leading the team in minutes.

“I feel like (getting waived) kind of fueled me, just not wanting to be in that situation again,” Laney told the AJC. “The encouragement and freedom from my coaches and my teammates every day working with me (made) me feel good (and made) me feel ready.”

Laney signed a one-year deal with the Dream, so she’s now a free agent, but she told Collen at the end of the season that she wants to return to Atlanta. The Dream finished the 2020 season with momentum for 2021, and Laney wants to be a part of it.

“We didn’t end where we would’ve wanted, but I think we were right there with our chemistry,” Laney said. “This is a coach and coaching staff and organization that gave me the opportunity to win this most improved player (award), and I’m just grateful for that.”

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