Getting to Know ... Teresa Edwards

Teresa Edwards recently joined forces with the Suwanee Sports Academy and will focus her considerable talents on the development of girls basketball in metro Atlanta.

Edwards is a native of Cairo and starred at the University of Georgia before going on to play professionally in the U.S. and overseas.

She won four Olympic gold medals playing for the U.S. and is only American, male or female, to play in five Olympics. Her number is just one of three to be retired by the Bulldogs in women's basketball.

In this edition of "Getting to Know ...", the 44-year-old Edwards took some time to talk to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including her roots, the state of basketball and taking the athlete's oath at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

CT: I thought we could start at the beginning.

TE: Wha-oh. OK. That's all the way back to Cairo, Georgia.

CT: Yes, my first question is how often do people mispronounce your hometown?

TE: You know, when I first began and people were interested in finding out where this little skinny kid was from down in south Georgia, it was always 'ky-row.' I don't think it was until late in college or after my first Olympics when people really started paying attention to how they pronounced my hometown.

CT: How did your involvement with Suwanee Sports Academy begin?

TE: I was very fortunate to know someone who knew Kevin (Cantwell, vice president of basketball development). I had met Kevin before, but he wouldn't remember because he's too big time for me.

CT: Well, sure.

TE: (Laughs) But very fortunate to have that introduction. Sitting down with him and (chairman) Pat Alacqua in a meeting and them explaining the grassroots of basketball as someone who's embracing this game at a level where it matters, once I had that meeting with them, I knew I was in the right place. It was just a matter of making sure that they knew I was in the right place at the same time. I was hoping they wanted to embrace me as much as I already felt like I was going to be a part of something.

I was a person that had never done camps, only showed up and spoke at other people's camps, always supported camps, but personally wouldn't do it because I felt like most camps are designed to just be a babysitting job or just for people to really make money. And that was my mentality and my opinion. I never wanted to take people's money just because I had a name and a game.

But I'm very passionate about basketball, when I play it and when I watch it. When I'm involved with kids in my spare time, they know I'm very passionate about it. So I couldn't just take their money. That's why I got involved with them.

CT: But really, a five-time Olympian has to sell herself at these meetings?

TE: (Laughs) You would be amazed. No, they didn't really make me sell myself, but I had to hope that they would be comfortable that at least I knew enough about basketball that Kevin could teach me the rest.

CT: This area, and you know from experience Georgia in general, has produced a lot of great basketball players. Is that what you're hoping to develop as well?

TE: No. 1 and foremost for me is I think that once kids really understand the basic concepts of the game, they're going to have so much fun. With basketball, whether you're the greatest player to ever play the game or being the 11th person on the team, whether you're the greatest or the last person to get on that floor, you will enjoy playing this game for the rest of your life. That is my goal.

I get so much joy from this game. As a kid, I gave basketball my everything and, in turn, it gave me so much more back that I just want to share that. I was a student of the game when I was a kid. I soaked everything up that my coaches taught me. Eventually one day the light bulb came on, it all made sense. When the light bulb comes on, it's a beautiful game.

I'm really hoping that is exactly what kids get out of this.

CT: The press release (announcing your involvement with 'On Court') said that you wanted to provide young players with the skills and training that's lacking throughout the game right now. What exactly do you mean by that?

TE: I think that kids are trying to go from their couch to the NBA and that's just not reality in the game of basketball. And another thing is there's not a lot of one-on-one fundamental development drills to help kids understand the dynamics of why they're doing what.

Because they're going from mom and dad coaching them to AAU mom and dad or somebody else's mom and dad coaching them, back to high school to a college environment and hopefully to a pro environment. With all that in mind, really there isn't much time for these kids to get out there and be creative by themselves. That, to me, is what kids need - an opportunity to say, 'I'm just going to the gym to play pick-up' or 'I'm just going to the gym to work on this part of my game.' Kids don't do that.

CT: Was that something you did growing up?

TE: Oh, are you kidding me? My mother had the hardest time getting me off the court. I lived at the courts. And I think that's where my creativity came out. Having an opportunity to play two-on-twos, one-on-ones with people that would show up brought out the creativity in me. They brought out a passion in me, they brought out a competitive edge in me. And I really think that's what is lacking in the game, that desire to be competitive, to want to learn.

So yeah, my mother would have to step outside the house and yell - I was a block away - for me to come home all the time. But she knew where I was. And I loved it. From the time I got up until I went to bed.

CT: You're the oldest of four?

TE: Five.

CT: And all brothers?

TE: All brothers.

CT: How long was it before one of them could beat you on a basketball court? Or has it happened yet?

TE: Never! Are you kidding me? Girl, please. Never.

No, it's really unusual though. They're all younger and I've played all of them at least once or twice in my life. Some of them are a little more active than others.

I remember my middle brother Ronald, he came to visit me after about my second Olympic Games or so. We were just hanging out for the weekend. I'd go to the gym every day and he'd come with me.

We just played half-court one-on-one. The first game he was like, 'OK, that's my sister, we're just getting loose.' The second game he was like, 'Alright, I can't be nice.' The third game he was cursing. The fourth game he was throwing the ball. By the fifth game he was in my face and he was saying, 'If you weren't my sister, I'd beat your (butt).'

(Laughing) There's only about three or four years difference between him and I. But it was like serious competition.

CT: What was your best game in high school?

TE: Oh God, that was so far back. Hmm. I can't remember that far back. I remember winning the state championship my senior year. But I can't really remember the game because I thought one of my best friends Liz played one of the best games of the championship and they think I did. I listen to other people tell the story and they make it sound as if I did. But I just remember being real nervous.

Winning, it took four years to do it and now I know how important it is. Not everyone can win it. I'm just happy to say I had an opportunity and took advantage of winning a high school state championship.

CT: Your record at Georgia was 116-17. Do the wins or the losses stand out more?

TE: The loss. That last college game stands out the biggest in my heart. And the Final Four loss my junior year.

CT: Was that Old Dominion?

TE: Yeah. Those two games are the biggest in my heart that I carry, that I wish I could play over more than anything in this world.

Yeah, the last one in college was against Tennessee, God dang it. And then Old Dominion in the championship. Pretty dang tough to swallow.

CT: What do you remember most about your first Olympics, because you were still a college player?

TE: Everything. I was such a kid in a candy store. Oh, man, I remember everything. It was a lot of firsts for me. I rode in a limo for the first time. I went to a concert for the first time. I did so many firsts and I played so hard for the first time in my life. I was the youngest one on the team and Coach (Pat) Summitt was the coach. She expected me to be first in every sprint, first in every drill, first in everything. But trust me, I was the last one to play in any game.

I remember so much about it - and I probably learned the most I could possibly learn that first time. I was just keenly aware of the different degree of caliber of players I was playing with. It was like being in heaven. Everyone was at the same caliber. It was like basketball heaven. Not many mistakes are made at that level because everyone is so good. I just became addicted to that.

CT: That was the L.A. Games. In your own country, did that help or did it create more pressure?

TE: As for me, at that age, I didn't know what pressure was. The older players knew what pressure was.

For me it was just another basketball game. Which, stupid me, now as I look back. But that's a good thing. That's what youth does.

CT: You went back to get your degree at Georgia a couple years after the Olympics, right?

TE: I left in '86, and it took three years. I went from playing professionally overseas, back home playing in the summer, just squeezing it in as much as I could playing on our national team and professionally. I did some correspondence courses, things of that nature.

CT: Not like now where you can do it all online.

TE: No, not like that. I had to mail it. Never once did I think it would get lost in the mail and you didn't make copies or anything. Now that I think about that ....

But, no, I just hammered it out until I got it done because I had promised my mother that I would when I left my hometown and headed to college. That was the biggest thing for her. For me, too, now. I realize now.

CT: You had to go overseas to go play after college, other than with the national team. It seems like that hasn't changed that much for women who want to keep playing after college. Is that a disappointment that we haven't gotten beyond that? There is the WNBA, but that's just during the summer and most of those women are still playing overseas anyway.

TE: Good question and I'm kind of glad you asked. I'm not the politically correct person - therefore I'll tell you how I feel about it. Yes, you're right, it is kind of disappointing. Because the effort to bring a professional league here in the United States was motivated, from my part, to do that, to keep us home in our environment, to build something here in the strongest country in the world, in my mind. If we are the biggest, best country in the world, why can't someone make room for us to be professional athletes as females here.

We were grinding it out initially, us and soccer, and just when it comes to women's team sports, to have a professional stand here.

You're absolutely correct when you ask this question. It's a little disappointing because these girls are now playing year-round. It's lucrative for them to go overseas and make a salary they can live on when they come here. And it's obviously not lucrative enough that they can just play in the WNBA and exist. And that's just not the dream I have for women's basketball.

I would love to see the day where you really could make it as a professional just like the men that get a lifestyle here. I think that would be my dream come true - even though I would not be the one out there doing it.

CT: Well, you want to see progress.

TE: I want to be here, I want to see my mom and dad and brothers and my family and my husband and my friends. You want to be creating your own life here and doing what you do best right here at home.

It's a tough life. You know, I can't even complain anymore about, 'Oh, God, I didn't have a phone or a TV with English, I couldn't just call home, I was lonely.' I can't even complain anymore because these kids are playing year-round. That's tough. And that's probably going to shorten their livelihood on the basketball court. Injuries and all that.

CT: The reason I even ask is because over the years it just hasn't changed and I think that's what's disappointing.

TE: And mostly, on the outside appearance as far as the WNBA is concerned, if you're not aware of what goes on in the offseason and that they're going overseas in the winter, you really think we've made it, we've arrived.

CT: But it's not like the salary numbers are hidden from anybody.

TE: All you have to do is hit a few keys on the computer.

CT: To me, it's not even in comparison to the NBA, but you shouldn't have to have another job if you're playing professional basketball.

TE: The argument you're mostly going to receive from people that don't understand, they say, 'Why doesn't women's basketball take off here?' Well, no one truly wants to invest in it. Especially the marketability. No one wants to treat it like a sport, they want to treat it like a women's game. And until you change the mentality of the men that are writing the checks, it will be the same.

But at the same time, we as women's basketball players, we have to be thankful and grateful for what exists today. Somehow if we're crafty enough, we'll find a way to build around it and build our own.

CT: Do you still go to games at Georgia?

TE: Of course, yeah.

CT: Do you think that the college women's game has changed?

TE: Tremendously.

CT: In a good way? In a bad way? In both ways?

TE: Both. The good is the exposure is dynamic. The perception from the public on just men's and women's college basketball is huge.

I think the game is awesome. I think it's still pretty pure at that level.

I know that the mentality of the kids is changing - that's the bad part for me. They're not as appreciative of that opportunity, at the scholarship offer and what that's truly offering in their life after college.

We're having to cater to their mentality more so than when I was playing. Whatever the coach said, if you didn't do it, you could possibly get cut, sent home. You did whatever you had to do in an orderly fashion as well as very disciplined. And no one made you do it. You just do that because it was protocol. And you were appreciative for that opportunity. More often than not, your parents would be like, 'Hey, whatever the coach says.'

That there is very hard for me to get used to.

CT: How often do you play?

TE: Oh, man, as often as I can. Five days kill my knees, but if I can get four or five days, I fight for it. I do try to go Monday through Thursday religiously and try to hit Saturday every now and then if I'm in town.

CT: Do you do a league or pick-up?

TE: I still like the pick-up. I think the pick-up is an ego thing for me. I think it tells me that I've still got a little game in me.

CT: You must have gotten to see a lot of places. We discussed the disappointment that there isn't a way to stay close to home to play. But I have to think that you learned an awful lot of stuff from those experiences - good and bad. Because every time you leave the United States, it's a learning experience. Just to see the way other people are.

TE: Tremendous, tremendous. The best thing that ever happened to me.

I thought when I left Cairo, Georgia, I was moving uptown, that I was going somewhere when I went to Athens. Man, going from Athens to Italy in '86, it was an eye-opening experience. Wow. By the third year playing overseas, the cultural differences and the diversity of people and the life, what God was really showing me about the world. It's like, God, had I never left Cairo, I would have never seen that.

First and foremost, I was like, 'Man I can't wait to get back home!' Then after a while it's like those differences are really pretty nice to be embracing. It just opens up my world, the good and the bad.

And when I think about it, let's just keep it basic, I did it bouncing a basketball. And people paid me to do it. It is a huge blessing. That's how I look at basketball. It's giving me much more than I could give it.

CT: Well and you say you can't wait to get back home, but I think it makes you appreciate home, too.

TE: What! If I could have gone from the plane to the ground and kissed it, I would have. But I was inside the terminal.

CT: I got home from three weeks in Italy and I was so happy to get in my car, put in, I still remember, a Pink CD and I sang at the top of my lungs going down the freeway at 70 miles an hour. I was so happy.

TE: I used to pack as many VHS tapes in my suitcase as I could, watch the same movies a thousand times overseas and the same with music.

The thing I missed most was my mom's cooking. I would get home as fast as I could to get some of that Southern cooking. Uh! A very simple kid I was.

CT: When you stopped playing professionally, did you immediately settle in the Atlanta area?

TE: I didn't really have my own place until eight, nine years after I moved over here (from Athens). Maybe less than that. Because I would go from overseas to with the national team to overseas. But I would still call Atlanta home.

Then I guess it's been about a good five years now since I've actually considered myself retired. Because I went in and out for a while. But I've pretty much settled into Atlanta.

CT: Would you have thought of living anywhere but your home state?

TE: No, but now I am.

CT: Where?

TE: I don't know. I just think there's got be something different I could get used to. And I'm never settled because I've traveled all my life. But I love Atlanta because you have a really beautiful city in the South that offers you whatever life you want.

CT: And you can still get some Southern cooking.

TE: Exactly. It's not far from my mother's house. Even though in her mind it is.

CT: Do you have a favorite dish of your mom's?

TE: Oh, man. Any of her vegetables. She cooks the best vegetables in the land. She could take a simple squash and make it so wonderful. My favorite is she knows I love cabbage. I'm a veggie kid. Of course her fried chicken. But whatever she cooks.

CT: Did you do analysis for the Beijing Games?

TE: I did it from the studios in New York. It was a live feed.

CT: So you were up at all hours?

TE: All night. I was walking back at 6 a.m., trying to make it to the bed. Oh my God, it was crazy. But it was a wonderful experience. It was one of the toughest jobs I've had as far as when it comes to analyzing games. It was a good experience. It brought back a lot of international remembrances there, players. It made me miss being a part of the Olympics for sure.

CT: You took the athlete's oath at the Atlanta Games. Is there any way to describe what that's like? It's a singular honor and very few people in the world, much less the United States, have done the same.

TE: Yeah, you're right. I've done so much and as I'm doing things it doesn't dawn on me that I'm doing these things. I live in the moment very well. But as I look back after five years of sitting on my butt, it's pretty cool some of the things I've had an opportunity to do.

And I even ask myself, 'Gee, why weren't you nervous?'

I just wasn't because I was in the moment.

But that oath, thanks to David Robinson who was the one to propose that I do it and make a speech on my behalf to the committee of other players that represented their teams, um, wow. Yeah, I mean, the first thing I thought about when they told me, I was very surprised - trust me I was totally surprised - the first thing I thought about was when I was in '84 and saw Edwin Moses do it. We were in the stadium and he got stuck. The words were on the jumbo-tron and everyone was saying, 'Just look up!' But he was just kind of stuck. Edwin Moses. I mean, a much beloved track star for us.

So I was a little, 'Oh God, I don't want to screw it up' when I first heard.

But once I got there, once I watched Muhammad Ali come in with that torch, then I screamed so loud I must have screamed all the nervous energy in the world out of my body. Thank God. Because that was a moment to behold when he came in.

I just got up there and did it. The magnitude of what I represented hits you later. You're just overwhelmed with the fact that you garnered that much respect. Because I've never seen myself in that kind of light.

I've been happy to be around them myself. I was happy to be with Michael Jordan in '84 and, you know, take pictures with Patrick (Ewing) and Michael and all these Carl Lewises and stuff.

CT: What kind of music do you like to listen to?

TE: I'm a big Southern gospel, R&B type of person. I'm a soul person. I like music that touches your soul, makes you move and feel good. I'm old school.

CT: What was your first car?

TE: An old '75 - and it was in the 80s - Ford Mustang. White Ford Mustang.

CT: Nice.

TE: It was old though. It was like my third year in college and my teammates had to push it down the hill to get it going. I had to pop the clutch all the time. As long as I pulled up and it was running, everybody wanted a ride. But when we had to pop the clutch, they were mad.

CT: What's the last movie you saw?

TE: "Seven pounds."

CT: You said you took a lot of movies with you overseas. Are you a still a big movie person?

TE: I love movies. I will watch classics sitting at home on the weekends. I just think that's the best down, relax time in the world. I love movies.