With a simple vote, SEC women's basketball coaches might have awoken a sleeping giant.
At least, that is what Dawn Staley is hoping. Heralded freshman Kelsey Bone was named to the All-Freshmen first team and to the All-SEC second team, but she was snubbed for Freshman of the Year.
That accolade went to Kentucky's A'dia Mathies, and Bone was visibly upset when told of the results before the Gamecocks departed Tuesday afternoon for today's SEC tournament opener against Mississippi at noon in Duluth, Ga.
Bone led SEC freshmen in scoring, rebounding and double-doubles (eight). Her rebounding average of 9.2 per game tied her for the league lead, and her 13.8 scoring averaged ranked ninth.
Mathies was 11th in scoring (12.8) and not near the top in rebounds, assists or double-doubles.
Staley questioned the coaches' vote but in turn hopes it provides Bone motivation.
"It's a disappointment for this league, because to have a freshman come in and do what she did - lead this league in rebounding - you can't take that away from her," Staley said. "I may get in a little trouble for saying this, but I have to protect our players. She led this league in rebounding - she's top 12 or 15 in scoring - that has to count for something. I think the coaches were wrong on that one."
"I think she (Bone) wanted to be freshman of the year, so how she uses it, that's on her."
Bone said Mathies was deserving of the honor, but one almost could tell from the moment she started talking that this was going to be used as motivation.
"I congratulate her (Mathies) fully, but I wished it would have been different, but it's OK," Bone said. "It was a goal of mine, but it didn't work out that way. I'm focused on getting my team to the SEC championship game. It's definitely a motivating factor."
Bone arrived on campus in June as the most heralded recruit in program history. She was ranked among the top recruits in the nation and was wooed by such powerhouse programs as Connecticut, Tennessee and Texas.
But Bone spurned those offers to play for Staley and attempt to make history at a program that has struggled. Since joining the SEC in 1991, the Gamecocks are 3-18 in SEC tournament games.
The 6-foot-5 post player hopes to reverse that trend beginning today. She claims to have grown more as a player in the past nine months than at any other time in her life.
She was consistently double-teamed in high school, but now it's routine for teams to run three or four defenders at her in hopes of slowing her. Even though she received most of her accolades because of her scoring ability, Bone understands there are different ways she can contribute.
"My game has changed a whole lot," Bone said. "The biggest thing has been for me to adjust to the different looks I get from teams. In high school I was double-teamed but never triple-teamed or have four people coming at me. If I can't score right now, I have to find something else to do. In high school, if I didn't score, I wouldn't do anything."
Valerie Nainima, who joined Bone on the All-SEC second team and is leading USC in scoring at 17.2 points per game, has seen the transformation of Bone. Nainima said lot of her success has to do with opponents focusing on stopping Bone in the paint.
"She has improved by handling the pressure given by the media and the other team as well. She has matured and grown a lot," Nainima said. "You can't score 17 points a game without somebody big inside occupying everyone else."
Staley has been pleased with Bone's progress, but, much like any freshman, Bone has been up and down. Staley would like to see Bone become more consistent, but she has no qualms about the way her first season went.
"Did she play great all the time? No. But I don't think any freshman plays great all the time," Staley said. "She had some games where she probably played like the best in the country. But she had some games where she didn't play as well as we would have liked her to play."