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From WNBA to USA: Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu’s relationship and shared experiences

  • Author:
    Mike Hall, USA Basketball Writing Program
  • Date:
    Feb 19, 2023

On Oct. 1, 2022, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu stood side-by-side, donning the red, white and blue and sporting gleaming hardware at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in Australia.

In their first appearances as members of the USA Women’s National Team, the New York Liberty duo watched as FIBA secretary general Andreas Zagklis awarded each member of the 2022 Women’s World Cup squad with gold medals, marking the United States’ fourth consecutive title. 

Now, just four months later, the tandem gears up for another run representing the United States. As two of 15 athletes who participated in a training camp at The Courts, home of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx and NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, from Feb. 6-9 in Minneapolis, both Laney and Ionescu acknowledged the impact of their connectedness.

Laney, a gold medalist with USA Basketball’s U17 and U16 national teams in 2010 and 2009, respectively, approached the minicamp with a sense of appreciation and focus. Given the event’s impact on the athlete pool for the Paris 2024 Olympics, she certainly recognized the opportunity. 

“It puts me in front of the committee,” said Laney, a WNBA All-Star. “It puts me in an opportunity to display all of the things I’m capable of, so I’m excited to be here.”

With 11 women who combined for 26 Olympic and Women’s World Cup gold medals attending the minicamp, adjusting to playing styles, egos and mantras could prove challenging for any of the all-world competitors. But after playing 39 contests alongside fellow gold medalist Ionescu for the Liberty in 2021 and 2022, the 29-year-old welcomes the challenge.

“It’s great,” said Laney. “To be able to play alongside teammates both from the [WNBA] as well as here with USA Basketball, we can continue to work on our chemistry and everything to help prepare us for this upcoming season.”

With the U.S. sitting atop eight consecutive Olympic pedestals, establishing camaraderie with both players and coaching staff is critical for team success. Luckily, Ionescu knows one teammate like the back of her hand. 

“You go through seasons with players…. you get to know them on a different level,” said Ionescu. “Obviously playing with [Betnijah] for the last two years in the [WNBA] and now at USA, we’re really familiar with one another.”

Despite all the off-season buzz surrounding their new-look squad in Brooklyn’s borough, both understand the task at hand. When it comes to competing on a national stage, Ionescu is no stranger. 

Like Laney, the former Oregon Duck provided pivotal contributions during the USA’s 8-0 stretch in Australia. A two-time USA Basketball 3X Nationals MVP in 2018 and 2019, Ionescu’s talent remains undeniable. Still, perhaps the most important experience arrived off the hardwood.

“Being able to have spent a little over a month with a lot of those players, you come back into a camp like this just really familiar with players,” added Ionescu. “You talk about old stories, stuff that happened in the World Cup. All that… has been really fun.”

The quick turnaround and international experience with the Women’s National Team last fall may provide the pair an upper hand in consideration for the Paris. Nevertheless, both harped on the importance of operating within a team setting, something traditional USA squads excelled with in Olympic and international bouts. 

“Everyone has different roles in the WNBA and for their teams, but when you come into USA Basketball, the goal is to win,” Ionescu said. “That’s every single time we wear and represent the national team. No matter what role it is I’m playing, it’s always an honor to be here invited to camp.”

With the Olympics on the horizon, February’s minicamp allowed the group to rejuvenate old relationships on a national stage. We don't know which athletes will make the trek to Paris, but one thing remains certain, Laney and Ionescu understand what it takes to contribute to such a storied program, and with strong professional ties, they look to showcase their versatility each time they lace up, regardless of the occasion. 

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