By Al Mattei
Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

Teresa Edwards could have played the 2003 WNBA season with a chip on her shoulder.

Instead, she has done it with an infectious smile and unbridled enthusiasm. She banters with teammates during the pregame shootaround and speaks up during timeouts. Subtle plays, such as throwing a behind-the-back bounce pass into the post, are done with uncanny ease. These traits have been honed through nearly two decades of playing high-level international basketball.

"Now that I am more into (WNBA play) I can see a little more clearly about this," she says. "It's about giving my career a sense of completeness, and getting this off my back."

"This" is a four-year journey that saw perhaps the greatest international basketball talent sitting idle for her country's domestic league for four seasons.

When the American Basketball League folded on Dec. 20, 1998, the natural tendency for the players who list their jobs was to migrate to the heavily marketed and better-funded Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Edwards, however, took the road less traveled. A member of four Olympic teams at the time, she launched a one-woman crusade for pay equity between ABL veterans and incoming WNBA draftees.

She sat out four WNBA seasons, choosing instead to work out with a number of male players in a gym near her Atlanta home.

The workouts had a benefit for the purposes of international basketball: she was able to win her fourth gold medal 2002 Sydney Olympics on her fifth Olympic team.

But while her USA teammates competed every summer in the WNBA and various other domestic and international leagues, Edwards chose personal workouts and pickup games to keep in shape.

"When I play, I have fun," she says. "Even when I play for exercise or play with the guys, I compete."

But after the 2000 Olympics, even after becoming the most decorated Olympic basketball player in American history, Edwards did not see her baskeball career as complete.

She went to France to play in their first-division league, taking Valenciennes to the 2002-2003 EuroLeague championship. That winter, Edwards' former Olympic teammate Suzie McConnell-Serio was hired as head coach of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx.

"I got an opportunity that I feel confortable with," Edwards says. "It was a comfortable envorinment to step into the unknown; this is unchartered territory for me. I didn't know what to expect. But having Suzie there made it the place for me."

Drafted in the second round of the 2003 WNBA Draft, Edwards has been a valued addition to the Minnesota rotation, as she led the team in assists on a team with bona fide stars like Katie Smith, Svetlana Abrosimova, and Tamika Williams.

"I felt it was the right time and place," Edwards said. "All I know is that I'm getting older; I don't know anyone who's getting younger. It's a fortunate situation; I'm glad I did it."

Edwards turned 39 during her inaugural WNBA season as a productive member of a good team. But she has learned much during her four years in the basketball wilderness.

"I just try to take things one day at a time," she says. "I don't have any really major expectations for myself or the league, but I try to have fun, create fun, and touch as many young people and young players as I can, and leave something behind."

Edwards would lead the Lynx to the WNBA playoffs in 2003 and 2004, winning the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award in the latter season.