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Rio Mesa's Jones Changes With Season


The question is simple.

The answer, however, can vary.

Question: Which sport does Rio Mesa High sophomore Marion Jones prefer, basketball or track?

The answer depends on the time of year.

If it's fall or winter, she prefers basketball. Spring or summer, the answer is track.

"It's about the same," Jones said. "When it's basketball season, I like basketball best. When it's track season, I like track the most."

Jones competed in both sports last week, playing basketball on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and running in the Sunkist Invitational at the Sports Arena on Friday night.

Jones, the defending state champion in the 100 and 200 meters, tied the national high school indoor record in the girls' 50-meter dash (6.43 seconds) at Sunkist and ran the leadoff leg on the Spartans' 4 x 160-yard relay team, which won the second of three heats in that event.

She played on a limited basis in Thursday's Channel League loss at Ventura after twisting her right ankle in practice the day before. But Jones came back to score 22 points in Saturday's victory at San Marcos.

"I like competing in both sports," Jones said. "I'm one of those people who have to be active. I have to be doing something at all times."

Being a two-sport star can have its drawbacks. Many coaches prefer athletes--particularly of Jones' caliber--to focus on one sport, but basketball Coach Al Walker and Brian FitzGerald, co-coach of the track team, say they have an amicable working relationship.

"There is no conflict whatsoever," Walker said. "Marion wants to play basketball and run track, and that's fine."

FitzGerald, who coached Angela Burnham to five state sprint titles at Rio Mesa from 1986-89, concurred.

"I do worry a little bit about her getting injured in basketball, but she's only 15 years old," he said. "What's she going to do? Live her life in a padded room? She could hurt herself walking to the store. . . . If she wants to (compete in both sports), she should do it."

Even though Jones tied the national high school indoor record--set by Jeanette Bolden of Compton Centennial in 1977--at Sunkist, FitzGerald kept her performance in perspective.

"I was surprised that Marion ran that fast, considering that her ankle was still pretty sore," FitzGerald said. "But you've got to realize that 50 meters is a seldom-run event. It's usually a 55 (yards) or a 60. It's nice that she tied the record, but I'd be a lot more in awe if she were to break the national record in the 100 or 200."

Friday night's time was Jones' first national high school record, but she has made a habit of setting age-group marks.

In 1989, Jones set a national age-13 record of 24.30 in the 200 and also ran 12.01 in the 100 and 56.98 in the 400.

Last year, as a freshman, she set age-14 records in the 100 (11.62) and 200 (23.70) and lowered her best in the 400 to 54.21.

She was third, third and fourth, respectively, in those events on the 1990 national high school lists.

"Marion knows what the age-group records are," FitzGerald said. "She's aware of them, but she doesn't dwell on them. She doesn't go out there looking for records.

"Records are nice. But I'm more concerned with how she runs at the end of the season. You're always remembered for the last thing you do."

Although Jones is focused on basketball for the moment, she has set goals of 11.50 in the 100, 23.50 in the 200, and sub-54 seconds in the 400 for this track season. She also plans to successfully defend her state titles in the 100 and 200.

"Those are very realistic goals for her," FitzGerald said. "But she might possibly run that fast by mid-season. If she does, we'll just re-evaluate her goals."

Jones is better-known for her exploits on the track than on the basketball court, but Walker says she has the potential to play at the NCAA Division I level. A 5-foot-9 1/2 shooting guard, she averages 25 points and also grabs 10 rebounds a game.

"Besides her great speed and athleticism, she really studies the game," Walker said. "She's really into it. She knows exactly what is going on at all times."

Which leads to the inevitable question: On which sport will Jones eventually concentrate?

FitzGerald reckons she will have to make a decision after high school. Jones says it will be later than that.

"I'll probably choose track," she said. "I know there's going to be a line after college where I'll have to make a decision, but right now, both sports are a lot of fun for me.

"I'm really having a good time, and that's what matters."

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