Sky’s Kahleah Copper, Liberty’s Betnijah Laney took similar paths to WNBA success

Copper and Laney have shared the court together since they were kids, playing AAU basketball for Yolanda Laney and then college ball for C. Vivian Stringer at Rutgers.

SHARE Sky’s Kahleah Copper, Liberty’s Betnijah Laney took similar paths to WNBA success
The Sky’s Kahleah Copper dribbles as Betnijah Laney of the New York Liberty defends during the second half of Sunday’s game at Barclays Center.

The Sky’s Kahleah Copper dribbles as Betnijah Laney of the New York Liberty defends during the second half of Sunday’s game at Barclays Center.

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

NEW YORK — The last time the Sky visited Barclays Center, star Kahleah Copper had a number of fans in the stands.

Family and friends had made the trip from North Philadelphia to watch Copper close out a playoff series she dominated last season. In the three-game series, Copper averaged a team-high 18.6 points and 4.6 rebounds.

The majority of her group of supporters sat behind the Sky’s bench, cheering from about 15 rows back. Unbeknownst to Copper, however, someone else she knew had a piece of valuable advice at an opportune time.

‘‘I was yelling to her from Row 4 [during Game 3 of the series],’’ Yolanda Laney said. ‘‘I was like: ‘Kah, you gotta get up on them. You gotta hedge.’ She turned around and was about to say something, and then she saw it was me and goes: ‘Coach! I got you, Coach.’ She thought it was just a fan giving her information from the stands.’’

Laney certainly is one of Copper’s fans, but she’s far from a typical one. Beyond Laney’s own legacy, which includes playing for Cheyney State’s historic 1982 women’s team, she was Copper’s coach on the AAU circuit in Philadelphia.

‘‘That’s just Coach,’’ Copper said. ‘‘Just correcting. She just cares so much about the growth of her players. She wasn’t going to be out there letting me mess up.’’

Laney was in the stands that day to support both her daughter, the Liberty’s Betnijah Laney, and Copper.

The friendship Betnijah and Copper formed during their years playing for Yolanda has been well-documented, specifically when both were named first-time All-Stars in 2021. Something both vocalized about their time playing under Yolanda is how well she prepared them to handle not only challenges on the court but in life.

‘‘It was a great experience to learn from somebody who was a star in her own right,’’ Laney said of her mom. ‘‘Even though she didn’t play professionally in the WNBA, she did overseas. Being able to learn from her was really special.’’

Laney and Copper went on to share the court at Rutgers together from 2012 to 2015, playing for Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer.

In a 50-year career, Stringer amassed 1,055 victories at Cheyney State (1972-83), Iowa (1983-95) and Rutgers (1995-2022). She led Cheyney State to the first NCAA women’s title game in 1982 — with Yolanda on her roster — and Iowa to the Final Four in 1993.

Copper and Laney have had similar professional careers, too. While Copper never was waived — Laney was cut multiple times, including by the Sky — both took years to establish themselves as the stars fans see today.

It’s no coincidence both solidified themselves in the WNBA in similar ways. Stringer has an unmatched reputation for preparing her players for the professional level, with a list of alumni that includes Cappie Pondexter, Epiphanny Prince and Erica Wheeler, among others.

‘‘The biggest thing I’ve taken from coach Stringer is the attention to detail on the little things,’’ Laney said. ‘‘They make a big difference in the game and in life.’’

Roster update

The Sky’s roster took another hit after their game Sunday against the Liberty when Kristine Anigwe left to join Great Britain’s national team for Eurobasket.

Coach/general manager James Wade has been given the WNBA’s approval to use an emergency hardship exception, but he has yet to sign anyone. Anigwe’s absence, combined with Morgan Bertsch (sprained ankle) still being at least a week away from returning to play, drops the Sky’s roster to eight available players.

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