COLLEGE STATION (AP) – Texas A&M’s Kelsey Bone has developed into a star for the 13th-ranked Aggies this season, ranking third in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (17.4) and second in rebounds (9.8).

She’s come a long way since her start in the sport when Bone’s first coach told the 5-foot-10 elementary school girl that she would never be a basketball player and that she should try something else.

“I was uncoordinated,” Bone recalled. “I had grown really fast so my body and my mind were trying to catch up. I was the biggest person on the team and I was terrible.”

Despite the harsh words of that first coach, Bone’s mother Kim Williams refused to let her daughter quit and soon found her a new team.

Unfortunately, the change of scenery didn’t do much to improve Bone’s performance.

“She didn’t want to run up and down the court,” Williams said. “The balls would go everywhere. It was amazing to watch how cruel adults could be, because people would laugh. Here was this big kid and she just didn’t know how to play basketball at all — had no sense of awareness about it.”

Because of her size, Bone made an AAU team that advanced to the national competition a couple of years after she first started playing. Bone’s team faced a squad called the Georgia Pistols at nationals, but she spent most of the game watching from the sideline.

“They had all these little, bitty girls that were super-fast and Kelsey couldn’t play,” Williams said. “She was just too slow. She was not going to be able to keep up.”

Bone’s team lost, but the experience, which included her first glimpse of how exciting basketball could be when it was played in front of a big crowd, made an impression on her.

On the drive home Bone was quiet until the girl who had begged every day to quit basketball turned to her mother and made a surprising declaration.

“I told her: ‘I will never sit on the bench ever again,'” Bone said.

From that moment on, Bone spent almost every day in the gym working on her game. By the next summer she was getting the hang of it, and a few years later she had grown to 6-4 and morphed into one of the top high school players in the country.

She was the McDonald’s player of the year in 2009 and the second-rated recruit in the nation (behind Baylor’s Brittney Griner) that season. Despite living in Houston, just about 100 miles up the road from Texas A&M, Bone signed with South Carolina because of her affinity for the SEC-style of basketball.

As a freshman, her 9.2 rebounds a game led the SEC and she averaged 14 points to earn SEC newcomer of the year. But Bone missed Texas and decided to transfer to A&M after one season.

Bone had to sit out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, and found her return to the court difficult.

“There were so many expectations for me last season,” she said. “I’d never set out a year. I didn’t factor in the adjustment to not playing for a year. I never even thought of it. I was never consistently moving up the ladder. I would take one step forward and three steps back.”

Despite her struggles she still managed to average 11.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game last season and nab Big 12 newcomer of the year honors. She was limited to 24 minutes a game last season because of her conditioning level.

That is a big reason why she committed herself to getting in better shape this offseason.

“It was a long process for me,” she said. “From the moment we lost to Maryland in the tournament, in the locker room I made the decision. From that point forward everything I did everyday was about that decision. I did more. I knew I would have to be in the best shape of my life.”

Her work has paid off. The junior is averaging a team-leading 30.5 minutes a game this year.

The Aggies look to get back on track on Sunday when they host LSU. Texas A&M had won eight games in a row before a recent tough stretch where the team dropped three of its last four games.

But Bone is no stranger to setbacks, and believes they provide an opportunity for improvement.

“The one thing I never want to be in complacent,” she said. “I want to be looking for ways to be better. Sometimes failure helps me with that. There’s no better teacher in life than failure.”

When things aren’t going well, she often thinks back to the tough start to her basketball career and knows she’ll be OK. It also helps to know that her mother is always behind her to support her no matter what.

“She is 100 percent why I am in the position I am in today,” Bone said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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