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Speedy Learner

As part of her calling card for a sports broadcasting career,
Marion Jones had her representatives send network executives
tapes of some of her most white-hot press conferences, including
one particularly tense evening in Sydney in September 2000 when
she faced the world media following revelations that C.J. Hunter,
her husband at the time, had tested positive for the anabolic
steroid nandrolone. "Having seen the grace under pressure that
she conducted herself with during the Sydney Olympics," says
Terry Ewert, executive producer of CBS Sports, "and knowing her
pedigree as a basketball player [Jones was a freshman point guard
on North Carolina's 1994 NCAA championship team], she had all the
components for us to use her."

Jones made her CBS debut last Saturday as the analyst on the
network's telecast of the Connecticut-Tennessee women's game
(page 82). It was her second high-profile broadcasting gig: Last
July she received generally favorable reviews after working as an
NBC sideline reporter at a WNBA game. "One thing we look for when
evaluating new on-air talent is marked improvement within that
show," says David Neal, head of production for NBC's pro
basketball and Olympic coverage. "As that game went on, Marion
got better and more comfortable."

That was also true last Saturday. Jones was clearly nervous early
on: Her voice trembled, and she occasionally resorted to cliched
analysis. ("It doesn't get any better than that," she declared
after a flashy assist by Huskies guard Sue Bird.) Late in the
first half she began to sound more at ease, meshing nicely with
play-by-play man Tim Brando and showing insight. Jones
presciently advised Lady Vols point guard Kara Lawson to get
center Michelle Snow involved in the game; less than 20 seconds
later Lawson fed Snow under the basket for an easy layup. "She's
still a little rough around the edges," Ewert says, "but that
goes away with experience."

In the second half of her two-event deal with CBS, Jones will be
an analyst at the NCAA outdoor track championships in May. Given
her star power, the networks will pursue Jones with gusto when
she retires from track and field, which won't be before the 2004
Olympics. "I don't know where she'll land," says Ewert, "but we
hope she at least has a good experience with CBS."

"It's absolutely within the realm of realistic expectations to
think that she could be on-air for us at the Beijing Games in
2008," says Neal. "If we are one of many suitors trying to have
her work for us, I'm comfortable with that."


COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN After a hesitant start fledgling CBS college basketball analyst Jones (above) found her footing.