COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is losing the Southeastern Conference's newcomer of the year.
Staley was praised a year ago when Kelsey Bone, the 6-foot-5 McDonald's All-American from Sugar Land, Texas, chose to play for the Gamecocks. But Bone has surprised her coaches and teammates with her transfer request.
"Once you make a commitment, I'm thinking you're going to make it for the good, the bad, the ugly," Staley said Wednesday. "We had a little of that this particular year. But you never know what's on people's minds."
Bone averaged 14 points this season and led the SEC with more than nine rebounds a game. She was picked for the all-SEC second team and became the first Gamecocks player honored as the league's top newcomer.
However, Bone went to Staley about two weeks ago with her desire to leave. Staley said the players and coaches did what they could to change her mind, and Bone even was seen helping host a South Carolina prospect last Saturday at a football scrimmage.
Bone would not be dissuaded. The player said through team spokeswoman Diana Koval she did not wish to make a statement or comment on her status.
"She was steady on thinking that another place was the best for her," Staley said.
Bone is expected to remain in school through the semester, then decide where to go. Staley persuaded Bone to join the Gamecocks, who were 10-18 and just 2-12 in the SEC in 2008-09, over recruiting efforts by home-state programs Texas and Texas A&M.
South Carolina improved to 14-15 and 7-9 in league play with Bone.
Staley said flatly she would not release Bone to play at another SEC school. She would evaluate any other school that Bone brings her way before signing off, Staley said.
It is the first major off-court setback for Staley's two-year-old program.
Bone was viewed as a program-changer and appeared confident and in control on the court.
"The things that we set forward to do this year, it's not coming as soon as we thought it would, but it is happening for us," Bone said in January when the Gamecocks were 10-7 overall and 3-2 in the SEC.
Things fell apart after that. South Carolina lost eight of its final 12 games including a first-round exit to Mississippi in the SEC tournament.
"We ended on a pretty disappointing note," Staley said. "That's something we all have to live with. But coming here, you take that chance because we aren't upper echelon."
Bone's mother, Kim Williams, moved to Columbia to lend her daughter support and Staley had no indications from the player or her family that her freshman standout was looking elsewhere.
"But when you're trying to jump-start a program, those things are going to happen," Staley said.
Staley broke the news to her team, saying they had lost a family member. The players followed Staley out on the practice court, standing behind her as the coach took questions from the media.
"We are supporting Kelsey in her decision to leave us and we're saddened that she's doing it," Staley said. "But at the same time, it creates new opportunity for the people behind me."