Jones has quiet WNBA debut as Lynx top Tulsa
TULSA, Okla. (AP)—Marion Jones’ path to stardom in the WNBA won’t be a sprint.
The former Olympic track star had little impact in limited playing time in her debut for Tulsa on Saturday night as the relocated Shock lost their inaugural game in their new hometown 80-74 to the Minnesota Lynx.
Jones, who won a national championship for North Carolina in college, made her return to basketball after more than a decade away. In between, she was stripped of her five Olympic track medals—including three golds—and served time in prison for lying to federal investigators.
“I’m learning as I go,” Jones said, surrounded by reporters as she sat in her locker after the game. “I know that it’s going to take time for things to kind of come together with me. But really, whatever I can do to help this ballclub win games.
“If it’s making sure when I’m on the bench that people get hyped, feeling motivated, then so be it.”
Jones played only 3 minutes and 19 seconds and watched most of the action unfold from the bench. Her statistical line was made up of a single foul, which she committed against Monica Wright just 3 seconds into her career.
“I know people kind of expect great, great things. I decided to play basketball, so people think I’m going to be out there 40 minutes and doing this,” Jones said. “But you’ve got to understand it’s a process. These ladies have been playing for much longer than I have, and I’m learning from them every day.”
Charde Houston scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half and Wright added 18 points as Minnesota won in former Shock assistant Cheryl Reeve’s debut as head coach.
The Lynx played without stars Candice Wiggins (knee) and Seimone Augustus (abdomen) but with Lindsay Whalen, the former University of Minnesota star picked up in an offseason trade. Whalen finished with 10 points, including two fadeaway jumpers to help hold off the Shock in the final 3 minutes, and six assists.
Jones was so amped up that she couldn’t settle down enough after shootaround to take a pregame nap.
When she arrived at the sold-out BOK Center, video cameras were waiting to film her as she walked in, wearing a light blue shirt and a dark blue bandanna around her neck. Minutes later, she had changed into a black warmup and was fielding questions from reporters in an interview room.
She spoke of having the same kind of butterflies as before she would hit the track and called it the realization of “a lifelong dream” to play pro basketball. She’s adjusting to the notion of having players 10 years younger make corrections to her game, and revels in the chance to play for a coach she’s heard people around town refer to as a king and a god.
It takes away some of the spotlight that’s been shined on her from around the globe, from people interested in the next chapter for a woman who was once among the most recognizable female athletes in the world.
After playing such limited time, she said nothing to remotely question coach Nolan Richardson’s decision to play her the fewest minutes of any of the Shock’s 11 players.
“Marion will get time as we play,” Richardson said. “There are some other players that didn’t get a whole of time either tonight. That’s part of the game. It’s part of being a rookie.”
But at 34, Jones is the league’s oldest rookie and her debut garnered more attention than most other first-year players.
Beyond the overflow crowd of 7,806, WNBA commissioner Donna Orender flew in to see Jones and Tulsa make their debuts. She offered Jones an embrace and a simple message: “Make magic.”
Jones started out on the bench but Richardson quickly went to a lineup of reserves as the Shock fell behind 10-2. After committing the early foul, she was pushed out of the way as Wright bullied in for a layup.
“Certainly after being away from the sport for so long and how much the game has changed and improved, there are going to be some bumps in the road,” Jones said before the game. “And whenever there are bumps, you kind of would like to do that quietly.”
Tulsa rallied back with a 14-0 run late in the second quarter to get within one at halftime. Shanna Crossley’s 3-pointer in the opening minute of the second half put Tulsa up 39-38, but that would end up being the only lead of the game for the Shock.
Hamchetou Maiga-Ba hit a pair of jumpers as Minnesota scored the next six points to go back ahead to stay.
“It’s a new beginning,” Jones said before the game. “Doing the sport that I love, that I’m passionate about. More than that, I mean, we can read into that as much as we want, but it’s a new beginning for me.”