WNBA's Shock announces signing of Olympian Marion Jones
BY LYNN JACOBSEN World Sports Writer
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
3/10/10 at 3:54 PM
Former Olympic sprinter Marion Jones has signed a free-agent contract with the Tulsa Shock, the WNBA franchise announced Wednesday at a press conference in downtown Tulsa.
Jones worked out for Shock coach Nolan Richardson on Saturday and the two parties began negotiations almost immediately.
“We’re thrilled to have her,” Richardson said. “In the workouts last week I saw great work ethic. She has things you can’t teach, like speed and great hand and eye coordination. She looks chiseled. Her age (34) might be saying one thing but everything about her is saying she’s young."
When asked if this was an attempt at redemption after being stripped of five medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics for the use of performance enhancing drugs and a six-month prison sentence for lying to prosecutors, Jones said:
“Redemption isn’t in my vocabulary. This is an opportunity for me to realize a dream. An opportunity to share my message of hope, of second chances. But redemption doesn’t creep into the equation for me. This is the new part of my journey.
“The WNBA players are the greatest women’s basketball players in the world. I welcome my chance to play alongside them."
WNBA president Donna Orender, in town to meet on other business, attended the press conference.
“Ever since the word of her intent to play in the WNBA has surfaced, I’ve gotten more questions from an unbelievably broad array of people,” Orender said. “She’s clearly a global figure, who people are interested in. Having somebody like that associated with our league is positive.”
Jones didn’t target the Shock by accident. She was well versed in the style of play Richardson brings to the game. Each were national champions in 1994, she with the North Carolina Tar Heels her freshman year of college and Richardson with the Arkansas Razorbacks.
“She chose us because she knows my style of basketball,” Richardson said. “The only issue is how much time will she need to get her basketball body back.
“I got an idea of her speed last week. That (workout) was just to give me a sense of where she is and how far she needs to go to be in basketball shape.”
Jones acknowledged it’s a challenge getting in shape for basketball season: “You can be the fastest runner in the world and you can get out on the court and in seconds be heaving like a 90-year-old man. I realize I have not played for years (since 1997). It’s been a challenge. I just had a baby eight months ago. But I’ve been around people who know the game. Basketball shape is different from running all out for 200 meters. I’m working on getting the feel of the game back.”
She knows she has to earn the respect of her new teammates, none of whom she has met yet.
“I’m excited to get on the court with the other players,” she said. “Honestly, I would have preferred to quietly pursue this opportunity. That’s how I would have wanted to script it. When I do things, they have to have a press conference. I would love to just throw on my basketball shoes and start playing. I know I have a lot of work to do, but I am excited to be in Tulsa and a member of the Shock.”
Jones was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in 2003 but never played in the WNBA. Seven years later she will get her first taste of professional basketball, making the minimum, roughly $35,000 in her first season, according to the WNBA pay scale.
Richardson said he believes Jones has the tools to make her a good player in the WNBA.
“She will continue to grow back to the basketball world,” he said. “We’ll work at getting her back to where she was as a young freshman in college. It’s just a matter of getting into the gym and playing, and playing. She’s my kind of player. She gets up and down the court. In my system, if you can play defense, you will get to play.”
Perhaps her biggest selling point to Richardson on Saturday was her attention to detail, the Shock coach said.
“I’ve been coaching for 40 years and you can tell when someone is hearing you speak and listening to you speak,” he said. “She listens.”
Richardson said he understands there are some who can not look past Jones’ transgressions that led to her having her medals stripped and a six-month jail sentence for lying to federal prosecutors.
“I talked with the WNBA and they told me there was no stipulation whatsoever about her joining the league,” Richardson said. “She’s stepping out, changing careers. I am, too. She needed a place that fits and what better fit than here? I’m a no-nonsense coach. She understands that. I’m glad she came to me.”
Shock president Steve Swetoha agreed.
“People make mistakes. When they do, they are held accountable,” he said. “She’s paid the price for that. I truly believe she is looking to move forward and be productive, not only off the court but on the court.”
MARION JONES BIO
A member of the 1994 North Carolina women’s basketball that won the NCAA national championship. Jones averaged 16.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in three years with the Tar Heels. She recorded 403 assists, 334 steals and 78 blocks in her college career.
* Jones became the first North Carolina sophomore to reach 1,000 points.
* Played on three ACC championship teams in 1994, ‘95 and ‘97 and was an all-ACC pick in 1995 and 1997.
* Earned All-ACC Tournament MVP and All-American honors from Basketball America in 1997 and was a third-team selection by Basketball Times and the Associated Press.
* In three seasons she scored 1,716 career points and ranks third in career scoring average with 16.8 points.
Tulsa Shock head coach Nolan Richardson looks on as Marion Jones shoot free throws during a workout session in Tulsa last week. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World