The following article was written by UGA Athletic Association staff writer John Frierson. To view the original article, click here.
The pivotal moments in life, the conversations that can change everything, often come during the simplest of occasions. No appointment necessary.
Hey, Coach, you got a minute? Of course, come on in.
Back in 1984, Georgia sophomore Teresa Edwards was one of the best college basketball players in the country, an All-American, and the 5-foot-11 guard was invited to try out for the U.S. Women’s National Team that would be competing in the Olympics that summer in Los Angeles. The U.S. squad, led by superstar Cheryl Miller and coached by Pat Summitt, figured to be a very deep and talented bunch.
How deep and talented? So much so, at least in Edwards’ estimation, that she decided that she wasn’t going to attend the tryout. The guard from Cairo, Ga., who would go on to play for the U.S. squad in a record five Olympics and win four gold medals and one bronze — Edwards’ Olympic record is 31-1 — her brilliant international career hit a speed bump before it even began.
She just needed to tell her coach, Andy Landers.
“I think about that talk and I use that talk as a motivational tool on almost every occasion I speak to kids because it was the one time in life that there was a fear of failure,” Edwards said. “And I didn’t know, I didn’t know that’s what I was feeling right then.”
“She came to me about a week or so before the Olympic trials and she said, I don’t think I’m going to go,” said Landers, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, three years ahead of Edwards’ induction in 2010.
As Landers explained it, Edwards, standing in the doorway to his small office in Stegeman Coliseum, said that she didn’t think she’d make the team; she was only 20 years old and she’d be the youngest person there, so what was the point of going?
The U.S. women have won six straight Olympic gold medals heading into the 2020 Games this summer, but back in the early 1980s, the Americans didn’t yet dominate world women’s basketball. The United States hadn’t yet won an Olympic gold medal (taking silver in 1976) and the Soviet Union had won six of the previous seven golds in the FIBA World Cup.
Still, the talent the U.S. coaches had to choose from in 1984 was immense. But Landers wasn’t buying it,
One of Landers’ many gifts as a coach, as a person, is his ability to listen, to absorb what’s coming his way and then ask just the right question. After listening to Edwards explain her decision, he turned the whole thing around.
There were going to be some really great guards trying out, Landers said, and the coaches were going to surely pick a handful of forward-type players and a group of point guard-type players, and then maybe five or six other guards.
“I said, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to name, quickly, five guards that you think are better than you,” Landers recalled.
Edwards said Joyce Walker of LSU right away, Landers said. “She named a couple more real quick and then she started thinking about it and stuttered a little bit.
“I said, OK, that’s it. I said, you’re going to try out for this team. I said, you’re going to make it because you can’t name five that you think are better than you are.”
As it turned out, there weren’t five better — not then and not for a long, long time. Edwards made the 12-player Olympic team, which destroyed the field on the way to the gold medal (benefitting from the Soviet Union’s boycott). She was one of the last ones off the bench and only averaged 2.5 points per game, but she’d made the team, reached the pinnacle of her sport as a 20-year-old — she was just getting started.
“And from that point on,” Landers said, the pride evident in his voice, “for the next 16 years, she would be the absolute leader of the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team.”
“You know, at that time I didn’t feel like it was” a life-changing conversation, Edwards said of that pre-tryout talk with her coach. “He actually clarified so much to me in that moment, what I was going through as a young kid, a college kid, a small-town kid. …
“Coach was the right man, chosen at the right time to make that moment happen for me because I would not have come close to being a five-time Olympian if we hadn’t had that conversation.”
As we celebrate Black History Month, Edwards’ basketball achievements are more than worthy of saluting, honoring and cheering. She’s in more halls of fame than you’ve got fingers on one hand, including a 2011 enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the highest honor in the sport.
Edwards scored 1,989 career points at Georgia (sixth all-time) and she ranks first in assists (653) and second in steals (342). Her great Olympic career included 11 games with double-digit points and three with double-digit assists, highlighted by a 20-point, 15-assist game against Australia in 1996.
“I just think the greatest thing about being the best, and being known as one of the great ones to ever do something in anything, is about understanding that you’re not thinking of those things while you’re in the midst of it,” Edwards said.
“The thing that Teresa would bring was the thing that you value the most, the competitiveness, the will to win,” Landers said. “For Teresa, basketball wasn’t a game, it was a competition. For a lot of people it’s a game, but for her it was something that had to be won.”
Current Lady Bulldogs coach Joni Taylor is too young to recall Edwards’ brilliant Georgia career (two Final Fours, two All-America honors), but Taylor clearly remembers seeing Edwards in her many appearances for Team USA.
“I just remember the Olympics and watching her play. What always struck me was how competitive she was. She was so competitive. So when I got here as an assistant, one of the first questions I asked Coach Landers was, tell me about Teresa, what was she like?” Taylor said, adding that she makes sure that the current Georgia players know all about the legends that preceded them, like Edwards and fellow Women’s Basketball Hall of Famers Katrina McClain and Janet Harris.
Professionally, Edwards played most of her career abroad, in Italy, Japan and France. After the 1996 Olympics, she was the player/coach for the Atlanta Glory in the brand-new and short-lived American Basketball League, which was trying to compete with the WNBA. More than 15 years after her final game at Georgia (1986), Edwards, then 38, was selected by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2003 WNBA Draft and played two seasons with the Lynx.
Edwards later spent time as an assistant coach for the Lynx, the Tulsa Shock and the Atlanta Dream. She now lives in New York, a long way from Cairo in more ways than one, and works with kids, coaching the game and coaching them on life.
From Cairo to Athens to the world, Edwards has traveled far and wide, enjoyed extraordinary success and lived a life more rich and full than she could ever have imagined back when she was starring for the Cairo High School Syrupmakers. Edwards recently took a look back at her life in her new book of poetry, “Dream With Faith.”
“Writing has always been something that she has felt passionate about, so I was excited to see the first poetry book,” Landers said. “I read it and my reaction was, she is really good at writing, she is really thoughtful in true Teresa fashion. She’s honest. And when I say that, honest to herself.”
In Edwards’ Naismith Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, you get a glimpse of the poet in her, sharing her feelings through verse. Now, there’s a whole book of it, her life, her experiences told through poems.
Why a book of poetry rather than a traditional autobiography? “I think in my deepest frustrations things begin to come through me in that way,” Edwards said. “It’s kind of weird how it happens; just in my deepest frustrations, in my pursuit of happiness and greatness, it just comes, the words come in my head like that — and I write ’em down.”
This book of poetry may be like that first appearance in the Olympics in 1984, Edwards is just getting started. She has more she wants to share and said there are more books in the way.