Basketball Legend Still Leading Lynx

Kevin Pelton, | Sep. 21, 2004
17 months ago, the names flickered across the bottom of NBA TV's broadcast of the later rounds of the 2003 WNBA Draft:

Allison Curtin Courtney Coleman Teresa Edwards Jennifer Butler Petra Ujhelyi.

The jersey - with sleeves - says all you need to know about how long ago Edwards played college ball.
UGA Photos
One of those names did not belong. Amidst the college stars and borderline WNBA prospects taken at the end of the first round and the beginning of the second round of the league's amateur draft was a player who was a rookie in name only.

By the time Teresa Edwards finally decided to make her move to the WNBA, she had already established herself as one of the greatest women's basketball players the U.S. had ever seen. Edwards' legacy is inextricably linked with USA Basketball. In five Olympic appearances wearing the USA uniform - no other U.S. basketball player, man or woman, has gone as many times - Edwards led her team to four gold medals and a bronze. Three times - 1987, 1990 and 1996 - Edwards was named USA Basketball's Female Athlete of the Year. She also holds career records for U.S. Olympics games, assists and steals.

After the third of Edwards' four gold medals, the USA women's performance in Atlanta helped bring professional women's basketball to the United States, and Edwards, who had spent her career playing overseas, brought her game to the ABL, where she was one of the league's biggest stars. In her first year with the Atlanta Glory, Edwards averaged 21.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, Oscar Robertson-esque numbers the WNBA has never seen. She finished runner-up to Nikki McCray of the ABL's top team, the Columbus Quest, in MVP voting.

The following year, Edwards added coaching duties but did not lose a step on the court, leading the league in assists (6.7 apg), ranking second in steals (2.7 spg), third in scoring (20.4 ppg) and 13th in rebounding (6.5 rpg).

14 games into Edwards' following season with the Philadelphia Rage, the ABL was dead, having lost the battle for women's basketball supremacy with the WNBA. It's no secret that for several years, Edwards and the WNBA were at odds, depriving U.S. fans of being able to see one of the game's best talents until Edwards finally decided to take her game to the WNBA last season.

"People just didn't know who Teresa Edwards was," Storm Coach Anne Donovan said at Tuesday's practice. "They heard about this icon and this legacy was out there, but didn't get a chance to see her until last summer. It's great to see what's left in her game, but if people had seen her in her prime - they would be amazed at just how talented she was."

Later on, Donovan's point guard, Sue Bird, proved Donovan's comments. The 23-year-old sheepishly shook her head no and admitted she hadn't followed Edwards as a youngster because women's basketball was so rarely on TV.

"Teresa Edwards is probably the one player who helped put women's basketball on the map," Bird said. "I may not have known that as it was going on, but I realize it now and I'm definitely very thankful."

As Donovan pointed out, the Edwards WNBA fans see now is not the one who won four gold medals. Edwards turned 40 this July and is not only the oldest player in the league, but also older than her coach, former Olympic teammate Suzie McConnell Serio. Edwards, McConnell Serio and Donovan were teammates on the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team.

Edwards' age scared some teams away from drafting Edwards in 2003, despite the fact that she was so clearly overqualified to be a second-round pick. That worked out perfectly for both Edwards and the Lynx, who were desperately in need of a starting point guard and did not have a first-round pick.

"I was very nervous through the first 13 picks," McConnell Serio said on Draft day. "My stomach was in knots in not knowing. I knew in my mind that's who I wanted and knew that there was a possibility that someone could take her."

Minnesota took Edwards with the second pick of the second round, and she has started all 71 Lynx games since then, leading Minnesota to the first two playoff appearances in franchise history.

Former coach and teammate Donovan loves seeing Edwards play well - except against the Storm.
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
This season, Edwards has been even more important to Minnesota, thanks to her versatility and her leadership. When Helen Darling stepped into the lineup to give the Lynx a pass-first point guard, Edwards shifted to shooting guard, a role she's played throughout the second half of the season. Edwards' leadership has also been invaluable to a team with four rookies playing key roles and without its other veteran, Katie Smith, during the second half of the season.

"She's a coach's dream on the floor," said Donovan, who, having coached Edwards during her partial season with the Rage, should know, "because she takes care of any issues you might have in terms of not working hard or mental approach. T is on it all the time, sharp. She makes sure that your rookies and your veterans alike come to play every day."

Now that the playoffs are here, Donovan expects Edwards to be able to elevate her game, as she did last year, when she averaged 6.7 points and 6.3 assists per game against the Los Angeles Sparks, well up from her regular-season numbers.

"You look at her experience in pressure situations, the Olympic gold medals that she's won, countless times when a lot is at stake, Teresa Edwards has stepped up," Donovan said. "Her leadership is invaluable."

Donovan has seen Edwards step up this season - against her Storm. In the season opener in Seattle, Edwards looked revitalized, scoring 17 points. That stood as her season high until the Storm and Lynx squared off in Minnesota on Sep. 10, when Edwards scored 18 points to key the Lynx's upset win over the Storm and bolster Minnesota's playoff chances.

"I love Teresa Edwards, and I have so much respect for her as one of the greatest players ever to play this game," Donovan noted. "So it's nice to see her do well, but it's never nice to see her do well against us."

Donovan may have to get used to it. Edwards will be one of the key players for Minnesota in this series, as the Lynx tries to get enough scoring to make up for the loss of Smith's 18.8 points per game. Her success in the matchup with Betty Lennox means Minnesota will be looking to get Edwards off again. And, starting with Donovan, no one questions Edwards' motivation and ability to take her game to the next level in the playoffs.

"I believe she thinks that we can go even further (in the playoffs), because she is someone who has communicated to me that she wants to win a championship and she wants to go out on top," McConnell Serio told the Lynx's Web site earlier this year.

Her time is now.