TULSA, Oklahoma, March 11- Disgraced US athletics star Marion Jones, stripped of five medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, returned to sport on Wednesday, being named the newest player of the Women's NBA Tulsa Shock.After years of angry denials, Jones admitted in 2007 that she was a dope cheat, taking the once-undetectable designer steroid THG, using it to help her win three gold medals and two bronze medals she was later forced to return.
Jones was released from a federal prison 18 months ago after serving a six-month sentence for lying about taking performance-enhancing drugs as well as her role in a 2003 check fraud plot.
"The past few years have been very tough. I’m about looking forward now," Jones said. "Life is much bigger than just sport. It’s about sharing my story of second chances and how that might help some other people in their lives."
Joining the WNBA at age 34 is not a bid for redemption, Jones said at a news conference.
"The word redemption is not in my vocabulary," she said. "I’m a competitor. I want to play against the best in the world and I know that I will be doing that."
Jones said she is done with apologizing for her past as she tries to build a better future.
"I’m past that," Jones said. "I said a number of times I made mistakes in the past. I’ve paid for that. Now I’m on to something new.
"I knew I’d be a public figure the rest of my life based on my history. I’m certainly not going to go away and hide in a cave and disappear. I’m passionate about what I’m doing and that it’s the right thing."
Jones hopes to launch a new sports career as a rookie free agent, hoping to provide Shock value for a team that moved from Detroit after last season.
"I’m extremely excited. I may not be your typical rookie in this league, but I’ll still bring that rookie energy," Jones said.
Jones began working toward this goal 10 months ago, realizing that she needed to prepare for a game that has evolved since her collegiate years.
"I know how much the game has grown from the time that I played and that became even more of a challenge for me," Jones said. "Although I know certain things and played a certain way, it’s 10 times faster, the athletes are 10 times more skilled."
Jones will make the WNBA minimum, about 35,000 dollars for the 2010 season, which opens May 15 when the Shock play host to Minnesota.
"Were thrilled to have her," Shock coach Nolan Richardson said. "She has things you cant teach, like speed and great hand and eye coordination.
"She looks chiseled. Her age might be saying one thing but everything about her is saying she’s young."
Shock president Steve Swetoha said Jones deserves another chance at a sports career despite her fall from grace.
"People make mistakes. When they do, they are held accountable," Swetoha said. "She has paid the price for that. I truly believe she’s looking to move forward and be productive, not only off the court but on the court."
Jones figures to be a drawing card for a team in the second-smallest home area in the league.
"She made some ill-advised decisions in the past, but everyone deserves a second chance to excel at something they love," Swetoha said. "We couldn’t be happier to have her on board."
Jones was a starting point guard for the 1994 University of North Carolina women’s basketball national champions the same year Richardson guided Arkansas to the US men’s college crown.
"I talked with the WNBA and they told me there was no stipulation whatsoever about her joining," Richardson said. "She is stepping out, changing careers. I am too. She needed a place that fits and what better fit than here?
"Im a no-nonsense coach. She understands that. Im glad she came to me."