Only the uniform has changed
Kelsey Bone roars back into the SEC
by Mike Siroky
Kelsey Bone is used to coming out parties.
Maybe all children born on New Year’s Eve arrive with great expectations.
She is back in the SEC after once playing at South Carolina and earning Newcomer of the Year honors with nine double-doubles. She transferred to Texas A&M and sat out the required year, but stayed busy. Last season, as a sophomore, she was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and a member of the conference all-tournament team.
But, just when you think you’re out they pull you back in.
Her team is back in the Southeastern Conference, ranked No. 20 nationally. She is once again a force in her original conference only she brought a new team with her.
A&M is the best addition to the SEC ever.
They proved that by holding No. 4 Kentucky’s feet to the fire. The Wildcats needed a 34-25 second half at home to eke out a three-point win and maintain the unbeaten pace in the conference.
“I thought this kid right here (Bone) played like an All-American the whole ball game just like Mathies did for you,” observed A&M coach Gary Blair. “That’s why the WNBA scouts were here. They were here to watch Mathies and now they are going to go away knowing who the hell Kelsey Bone is.”
“We have seven freshmen,” Blair said. “ I am pleased with the progress but they have to learn what life on the road in the SEC is all about. To learn the game, not just play the game. No doubt about it, seven teams (in the SEC) have been to the Final Four.”
“It’s all about the word ‘pressure,’ ” Blair said of Kentucky’s defense. “The amount of pressure they put on is similar to the ‘40 Minutes of Hell’ (Arkansas coach) Nolan Richardson used (when Blair coached the women there). When anyone puts extra pressure on Bone, our freshmen have to step up. If you’re gonna take something away, we have to have others step up.”
Bone is the leading scorer (18.1) and rebounder (10.2) in the league. She is the third best career rebounder (693) among active players and will be the leader in the clubhouse next season. She leads the league in most games with 20 or more points (seven times).
All of this comes back to familiarity. She used her off-season sitting out as a transfer to lift weights, and she blogged for the school, about women’s hoops while working on her future career as host of the Aggie Women’s Basketball Show produced monthly during the season by 12th Man Productions and broadcast at the women’s basketball luncheons.
“So I went to each school and scouted things and saw the lay of the land,” she says of the SEC. Nothing can catch her off-guard.
Her genetics are beyond good. She is from Texas, Houston to be precise. Her dad, two uncles and an aunt all were college athletes.
But, “My grandfather won six state titles (in track) and the public school stadium is named after him,” she observes.
It did not pressure her. But it did help choose a sport.
“I am not for outdoor heat,” Bone said. “I prefer central air. I did try (her senior year) in high school to throw that little iron ball. It was not for me.”
What is for her is hoops. She has played on international teams, coached by Carole Owen, the associate head coach at Notre Dame and a legendary developer of the post players.
Bone helped Team USA to the 2009 U19 FIBA World Championship Gold medal with 12.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in Bangkok, Thailand.
Every stop along the way has developed her, brought her to his moment.
For instance, “We weight-trained a little bit in high school a little preseason thing twice a week. We died,” she remembers.
She used the season of sitting out to devote herself to weights. “I practiced and hit the weights because I had to do something,” she says of that season. And she proved herself.
“I couldn’t barely life the bar in squats when I started; I maxed out at 355. Maxed out.”
And that serves her well in the rough-n-tumble underneath.
She has learned to use the strength to adjust to the game.
“My freshman year, I was not used to playing a complete game,” she said. “In high school, we’d be so far ahead, I’d sit out. A lot.”
Now that is no problem.
“I have confidence,” Bone said. “I know in the SEC you still have to go to those gyms, hear those boos and you have to believe in yourself.
“I cannot tune it out.”
Instead, she tunes into the legendary coach – who never brags on himself – and her teammates.
“We are just really excited to play basketball,” Bone said. “We have a fun coach, a young team and we are enjoying every game we are allowed to play.”
If this is how it ends, with two more years of top-level college hoops and then an WNBA career aiming towards the Games of 2016, that will be fine.
“I am so respectful of the game and the opportunities I have, we have,” she said. “When I was young, there was only UConn and Tennessee and I wrote both of them letters and said to make sure they’d be coaching when I came along.
“Then, as I got older and learned more, I realized there are a lot of good teams and, as Coach Blair has told us, “Anything can happen.’
“I so respect the game and what it offers.”
The end is fun even if the beginning was not.
“My mom said I had to have something to do in sports. I was in fourth grade, already 5-8 and uncoordinated. My mother was not going to let me not be this. She forced me to play. I hated the game, hated her.
“Now I am so grateful. I am in my home state we have a great team, a great coach and the best fans. My family can see me play all the time.”