Rashanda McCants hopes to shake Marion Jones' hand on Saturday, when the Lynx open the season at Tulsa. Though Jones is 34 now, and the oldest rookie in the WNBA, McCants still doesn't want to take her on in a footrace on the basketball court. "If you have the fastest woman in America coming after you, you can't outrun her," McCants said, laughing. "That's going to be in the back of your head."

McCants and her family gathered in front of the TV to watch every race Jones ran at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The woman universally hailed as the world's greatest female athlete won three gold medals and two bronzes that summer. Eight years later, she lost everything -- her fortune, her reputation, her medals, her freedom -- for lying to federal investigators about her use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Jones fell the furthest of any athlete caught up in America's steroid wars. The WNBA's willingness to provide her a pathway back to sport has provoked a wide range of emotion, from skepticism to indignation to curiosity. McCants sides with those who believe Jones deserves a second chance to create a happy ending to her cautionary tale.

"I don't think anyone has the right to judge her," said McCants, who feels a kinship with Jones as a fellow alumna of North Carolina's basketball program. "It's in the past.

"I definitely think it's good for basketball to have such a legend step on the court and bring more attention to the game. I think she shows you can learn from your mistakes, and that's good for everyone."

Jones last played basketball in 1997, three years after she helped North Carolina win an NCAA championship as a freshman point guard. She returns to the game as a mother of three -- including a daughter born less than a year ago -- and a former inmate of a federal prison. Jones served a six-month sentence after pleading guilty to perjury in 2007 for lying about her drug use and her role in a check-fraud scheme.

Last winter, she began serious basketball workouts in the hope of signing with a WNBA team. Jones landed with the Shock, formerly of Detroit and now located in Tulsa. Shock coach Nolan Richardson still favors the fast-paced offense and pressure defense he ran at Arkansas, and Jones' athletic ability should be well-suited to that philosophy.

Shelley Patterson, the Lynx's manager of advance scouting and player development, was on the basketball staff at Wake Forest when Jones was playing at North Carolina. She remembers Jones' amazing speed and jumping ability, but she wonders how Jones will adjust to facing younger, highly skilled players in a game far more advanced than the one she knew.

"She's a rookie, and I think that's exactly what she's going to look like," Patterson said. "There are a lot of speedsters around, and they've probably caught up to her by now. And there are a lot of things that happen in this league that she might not have seen in college, that she's probably not going to see or pick up. We're all curious to see what happens."

The Lynx will get the first official look Saturday. In an exhibition game last Sunday against Seattle, Jones came off the bench to play 11 minutes, 26 seconds and finished with four points, three rebounds, two steals and no turnovers.

As a WNBA rookie, Jones will make about $35,000 this season, which would have seemed like pocket change in the days when she banked millions in endorsement income and prize money. She's unlikely to regain the athletic dominance she enjoyed for years. Many fans will view her as a novelty or as a target for hecklers.

All that will be humbling for Jones, but she's been through worse. Her scandals could not erase the fact that she was, underneath it all, a remarkable athlete. If she can rediscover those gifts in their purest form -- and leave behind the hubris that warped her judgment -- perhaps she can truly make a fresh start.

"This is an opportunity for me to realize a dream, an opportunity for me to share my message of hope, of second chances," Jones said at a news conference the day she signed. "Redemption doesn't creep into the equation for me. This is the new part of my journey."