Bone’s departure has worked out for all parties

pobley@thestate.comFebruary 8, 2013 

The players stood together behind their coach as the news was delivered.

Kelsey Bone was leaving the USC women’s basketball program. It was a stunning development, one that potentially could have been an embarrassment to Dawn Staley’s fledgling rebuilding project.

The 6-foot-5 Bone was the nation’s top recruit behind Brittney Griner in the 2009 class and was expected to be a centerpiece in the Gamecocks’ revival.

During that freshman season, Bone was every bit the terror Staley had expected her to be. She averaged 14 points and an SEC-best 9.2 rebounds per game in earning Newcomer of the Year honors from the league.

But as much as she wanted to excel, Bone also wanted to win and that was something USC failed to do consistently during the 2009-10 season. That ship wrecked on the shoals of a rugged SEC slate as the Gamecocks dropped four of their final five regular-season games and finished 14-15.

Then came March 31, 2010.

Bone took to Twitter to write, “Thanking God for another day! When he closes one door he opens another!”

Staley spoke of moving forward and the importance of maintaining commitment through “the good, the bad, the ugly.”

Staley went on to say she would release Bone, but not to another SEC school.

So Bone exited, the door closing behind her. She joined Texas A&M and the next time she suited up for a game, she did so as a member of the reigning national champions.

A new door opened for USC as well. The Gamecocks didn’t miss a beat, reaching the postseason the following year and reaching the Sweet 16 this past season.

Though Bone and Staley went their separate ways, fate would have their paths cross again. Bone’s new school joined the SEC, and Sunday she once again will take to the floor at Colonial Life Arena.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” Staley said Friday. “Funny how the world works. I guess it was meant to be for us to face each other.”

USC has become a team molded in the image of Staley during her playing days: tenacious on defense, opportunistic on offense.

“I said when she left, sometimes you gain by losing, and we certainly didn’t skip a beat,” Staley said. “We kept it moving, and she’s having a great career, so everybody found their happiness.”

Happiness for Bone has meant misery for the rest of the SEC. Bone ranks second in scoring (17.3) and rebounding (9.5). She has 10 double-doubles this season, including a 27-point, 15-rebound performance at Kentucky last month. That game came amid a flurry of four consecutive double-doubles to begin league play and five consecutive overall.

Two members of today’s Gamecocks squad stood behind Staley that spring afternoon in 2010. Both shrugged off the drama of facing Bone on Sunday.

“She’s just another great player on a team,” guard Ieasia Walker said. “We’re just looking forward to playing them and trying to get another top-25 win.”

Ashley Bruner will be tasked with going toe-to-toe with Bone under the basket. She doesn’t know for certain if the time she spent in practice against Bone three years ago will matter, but she does have a battle plan for Sunday.

“Just be big,” Bruner said. “I know we’re not the biggest people in the post, but I think we can frustrate her in certain areas. We just have got to keep her off the boards and sit on that right shoulder, because she’s going and going and rebounding.

“I’ve just got to attack her,” Bruner continued. “Just got to be physical. Make her feel me. Every play.”

Texas A&M and USC are in the middle of a multi-team dogfight for one of the SEC’s top four seeds. It would be easy to daydream what heights USC would reach had Bone remained in Columbia, but such daydreams easily could have become nightmares if a player who wasn’t happy had remained in the program.

“For her, I’m glad she has found success at Texas A&M,” Staley said. “I’m glad we found success here at USC with her departure, something not many people thought we would survive. But we survived.”

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