She's ready. We've taught her everything that we could. Sure, selfishly, I'd love to have her another year...
- Gary Blair
After a brief post about Kelsey Bone's announcement that she's declaring for the WNBA draft instead of coming back to use her final year of eligibility, I wrote that I'd try to put up a longer fanpost about her career with the Aggie Women's BouncyBall program. With Kelsey one of the dozen prospects invited to the WNBA draft tonight, here it is.
M. Robinson's outstanding* interview with Bone starts with these words:
Those have been words consistently linked to the career of Kelsey Bone.
In some cases those words may have come from self-described fans of Texas A&M Women's Basketball sitting around me in Reed Arena. Some of the criticism reminded me of Jabbar in Airplane.
Roger Murdock: ROGER MURDOCK. I'm an airline pilot.
Joey: I think you're the greatest, but my dad says you don't work hard enough on defense.
[Kareem's getting mad]
Joey: And he says that lots of times, you don't even run down court. And that you don't really try... except during the playoffs.
Roger Murdock: [breaking character] The hell I don't! LISTEN KID! I've been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I'm out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.
Kelsey Bone's college basketball career was played in the shadow of two of the best women's bouncy ball players to ever set foot on the floor at Reed Arena: Brittney Griner and Danielle Adams. Griner and Bone have been paired since they played high school basketball in the Houston area. Their two high-school matchups got national attention. Simmie Colson wrote of their second meeting in the 2009 regional final four:
Nimitz versus Dulles, Cougars versus Vikings, Brittany Griner versus Kelsey Bone 1 versus 2, whatever people wanted to call it, only one giant would be left standing when it was over.
Nimitz and Dulles split the two meetings, with Griner's team winning the second matchup (in which both posts fouled out)**. Griner and Bone graduated ranked 1-2 in recruiting ratings. With Griner a long-time Baylor commit, we thought we had the inside track to land Bone, setting up annual renewals of the Griner-Bone rivalry for four years. Instead, Bone chose to start her college career in the SEC at S. Carolina.
Ironically, in disappointing Aggie fans with her choice, Kelsey set up A&M's 2011 national championship, and created the other shadow that has haunted her career in the eyes of the fan base. The scholarship slot that was set up for Bone was now open, leading Coach Blair to call again on the Kansas City recruiting connection that brought Tyra White and Tanisha Smith to the Ags. When Danielle Adams first shuffled onto the hardwood at Reed, a lot of Aggie fans were wondering how she could be the replacement for Kelsey Bone. Then she dropped 24 points on the Duke Blue Devils and we fell in love. By the time Danielle was collecting her MVP trophy for the 2011 finals, Bone was a redshirt transfer, practicing but not playing. I can't help but wonder how things would have played out if Bone had committed as a freshman. There would not be a #23 jersey hanging from the rafters at Reed and probably no national champion banner. What would our team look like today without the recruiting boost from winning the Big Dance? Would Vic Schaefer still be here?
On the positive side, we might have had fewer sightings of President Loftin doing the Dougie.
When Kelsey Bone became the starting center in the Fall of 2011, the shadows of Griner and Adams combined with the usual Aggie bipolar disease to create expectations. After all, Bone was #2 coming out of HS to Griner's #1, so she should be competitive with Griner as a junior despite transferring and sitting out a year... and not being Brittney Griner. Plus, Kelsey Bone was the player we wanted more than Danielle Adams, so she should be able to step in and do what Adams did, right? Or more. There were constant reminders of these expectations as the NC dominated the intro video, there were lots of events related to the NC, and Adams, rehabbing an injury, attended lots of games. A photo of the NC team hoisting the 2011 trophy is still the banner background for the women's basketball page on aggieathletics.com.
Bone's first year with the Ags was not exactly terrible. 11.9 ppg. on .566 shooting. 6.9 rpg. Big 12 newcomer of the year. All conference honorable mention. 5 double-doubles. Bone's stats would have made us giddy from the pre-Adams, posts. Not just in scoring: Bone's junior rebounding numbers are better than LaToya Micheaux' for the 2007-08 Elite 8 year (Miss Mean did set better screens***). The Ags were 24-11, made the conference final, and got to the Sweet 16, where they fell against a higher seeded Maryland team. But... the Ags got swept by both Baylor (not shocking in their undefeated NC year) and tu (shocking and bad, breaking a streak of wins over the sips and giving them scoreboard until we meet again someday).
This year brought new teammates, new assistants, and the return to the SEC. Although Bellock, Pratcher, and Windham were the seniors with more time with the team, Bone had the most experience as a starter. By the coaches' accounts, she was the team leader. With so many new players in the rotation, Bone was also the focus of the offense and the primary focus of opponents' game plans. New assistant Bob Starkey came to TAMU with a reputation for working with posts, from his work at LSU that included working with Sylvia Fowles. Starkey even worked with Shaq on the men's side before switching to coaching women. To my inexpert eye, Starkey's hand could be seen in how both Bone and Gilbert improved their footwork and positioning in the block. There were many times when Bone was unstoppable in the paint, and when she dazzled us with her passes out of double and triple teams. She was vastly improved in how she ran the break.
On the other hand, there were stretches where the fans were frustrated by her play... in no small part from the expectation that she should play at her peak all the time. Notable examples were at Vanderbilt, Senior day vs LSU, and, of course, the early exit vs Nebraska at Reed. In my memory, Bone had two different kinds of problems in games and individual plays where she struggled: The first kind was where she didn't follow the classic sports cliche of "let the game come to you". On offense this would manifest itself in taking more difficult shots instead of taking the tradeoff of a possible charge, a shot-block or non-call vs. a possible opportunity to go to the FT line. With my maroon-colored glasses, this was not entirely irrational due to the level of non-calls in the paint she saw all season. On defense, I sometimes saw Kelsey try to make a heroic play that led to either getting a foul or leaving a hole in the D. I blogged an instance of this from the end of the Ky game at Reed. But as I wrote at the time, I don't know if that was a decision she made or part of the way the D was drawn up. The second situation where Kelsey struggled was, not surprisingly, when the team as a whole struggled. Just as her great stretches reflected execution on the part of her teammates in making the right entry passes and the right cuts and spot-ups to take her passes, some of her poor stretches came when it seemed like the team was struggling to stretch the opposing D.
The early exit vs the Corn left a lot of us hoping that Kelsey would view her career as having unfinished business and return. But despite the NCAA disappointment, this year's team did hang another banner for A&M's first team championship in the SEC. The decision about not coming back is about balancing the benefits of returning vs moving on in terms of growing her game. One of the interesting things to me in Kelsey's announcement interview was her talking about how she wasn't a natural at bouncy ball growing up. People actually told her to give up the game. According to the coaches, Bone is very coachable, perhaps partly in reaction to her early experiences. While I don't think it's actually true that the coaches have taught her everything they can, that shouldn't be the standard, or no one would ever be ready to move to the next level (or you have coaches who aren't at the level of Blair and his assistants). As strong as the SEC may be in WBB, it's not clear to me if staying and dominating most teams would be the best way for Bone to continue to improve. It's time for Bone to learn against a higher level of competition. And while the WNBA salaries are not spectacular, Bone should be able to get a pretty nice gig in the offseason overseas.
So, Kelsey Bone moves on leaving her own shadow on the program for the next generation of Aggie Women's posts to live up to. I'll be wishing her Bon(e) chance in her pro career and beyond.
For an outside analytical view of Kelsey's draft prospects, see Swish Appeal's Nate Parham's analysis of her game at analysis of her game, and comparisons with other post prospects. ESPN's experts have KB going at 4 or 5 to Washington or New York.
* Yes, this is the third different fanpost where I've linked to it!
** Griner's Nimitz team wound up losing to Mansfield Summit in the 5A finals that year.
*** I believe Micheaux is the all-time rebounding leader... but the aggieathletics website sucks, and I could not find all-time career records for the program.