COLUMBIA -- Packed with promise, this was expected to be the season in which things clicked for Dawn Staley's South Carolina women's basketball program.
But that was before April 1. That's when Staley stood in the school's practice facility, flanked by her players.
They were left to explain -- or at least try to explain -- why their best player had just taken off after a year, leaving them to rebuild yet again.
Kelsey Bone was the supposed game-changer. No, program-changer.
She was the 6-5, imposing cornerstone that the rest of the team would be built around for four years. Only problem is, she stayed one year.
Bone, from Houston, transferred to Texas A&M.
"We've moved past that," Staley said recently. "I think sometimes you gain by losing, and I'm hoping this is an instance where we gain. We're a tighter-knit group than we were in the past two years, so that should account for something."
The Gamecocks, who finished 14-15 last season, are trying to put on a pleasant face about it all. But there's no question they'll miss Bone.
Besides the overall impact, there's the game-to-game impact. Bone, with her size, averaged nearly a double-double. The tallest returning players are 6-1 Jewel May and Charenee Stephens.
"It's no secret that we're a smaller team," May said. "That being said, we're also one of the more athletic teams. Where we give up on inches, that's where we can overcome it with our athleticism and ability to jump and be agile."
As if losing Bone weren't enough, then there's the knee injury to senior guard Valerie Nainima.
Nainima already used her redshirt after transferring, so she's rehabbing furiously to return. Staley is hopeful, but there's no telling what the Gamecocks can expect from her.
Between Bone and Nainima, South Carolina lost nearly 50 percent of its scoring from a season ago.
The Gamecocks begin their season Friday against Xavier, pairing with the men for a rare hoops doubleheader.
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