Commentary

Teresa Edwards returns to WNBA

Tulsa's director of player personnel sets out to help redefine Shock

Originally Published: December 2, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Teresa EdwardsDavid Sherman/NBAE/Getty ImagesTeresa Edwards will help Nolan Richardson get the Shock in shape in time for April.

For all great athletes, there comes that time when they either do -- or don't -- make peace with the end of their competitive careers. Teresa Edwards acknowledges it has taken her awhile.

Which is understandable. When you're a five-time Olympian, it might seem as if you are going to play forever … because it's almost like you already have.

Then when you do seriously begin to let go, you must find who and what you are in regard to the sport if you aren't playing it. When Edwards began that adjustment to life no longer as a player, she knew she was going to face some big challenges.

As a player, I was a total perfectionist when it comes to the game, and I had to learn that not everybody is like me. I've learned that. I think I'm in a good space mentally dealing with what's in front of me, as opposed to what I think should be there.

-- Five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards

Because the option of coaching was not an automatic or easy transition for her, even though no one knows the game better than she does. She was reluctant to coach, and a stint as a WNBA assistant in Minnesota in 2006 and '07 wasn't a good fit for her at the time.

"My mentality then -- I definitely don't think I was ready," Edwards said.

But now, after doing broadcasting work and giving clinics the past few years, Edwards feels she is more emotionally and mentally prepared to work in the WNBA in a different capacity. So not long ago, when Tulsa and coach/GM Nolan Richardson approached her to become director of player personnel for the Shock, Edwards was ready to take the job.

"As a player, I was a total perfectionist when it comes to the game, and I had to learn that not everybody is like me," Edwards said of shifting to her post-playing career. "I've learned that. I think I'm in a good space mentally dealing with what's in front of me, as opposed to what I think should be there."

That said, Edwards -- who entered the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame this summer -- won't radically alter who she is. In that regard, she's the same person she was when she started her college career at Georgia for Andy Landers in 1982.

"I don't want to lose my competitive edge, because I think that's one of the best qualities I can bring to the table," she said. "So I will be intense and competitive, because I love the game that much. But at the same time, I understand that Coach Richardson is handling the pressure of coaching. I just have to give him whatever help I can give him in developing this team.

"Second, I want to be there for these players, not just for their present career but developing something after their careers are over. That's very important to me, because I've been in a place where my career has ended and I've had to figure out the rest of my life. I can bring something to the table in that regard that they really need, beyond the hardwood."

[+] EnlargeTeresa Edwards
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesFive-time Olympian Teresa Edwards helped the U.S. women win gold at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.

Edwards' presence gives the Shock something that, frankly, it did not have last season as the franchise made a bumpy transition from Detroit to Tulsa. She has instant legitimacy in women's basketball specifically, which Richardson didn't have. He had success in men's basketball, and then took a crash course in the women's game before beginning his tenure with the Shock.

Players like Katie Smith, Deanna Nolan and Cheryl Ford, so important to Detroit's success, did not make the move to Tulsa. The players who did, like Plenette Pierson, Kara Braxton and Shavonte Zellous, were traded away when they didn't "fit" with Richardson.

Plenty of observers cast aspersion on his deals, suggesting that Richardson was simply dismantling the "old" Shock because of his own inflexibility, and in doing so was continually trading for players of lesser value.

Richardson said he was looking for a different mental attitude in hopes of creating the chemistry he needed for his well-known defensively aggressive system. But what felt like a revolving door of new teammates was clearly hard on the players who did make it through all or most of the Shock's WNBA-worst 6-28 season.

There also was the presence of Marion Jones, the former track star trying to make an athletic comeback in the WNBA, as another potential distraction. Jones worked hard and did whatever she could to truly fit into the team, but it was still another thing the Shock had to navigate.

Guard Scholanda Robinson was the only consistent presence throughout the season; she started 33 of 34 games and averaged 11.9 points. Chante Black started 23 games; no other Shock player started more than 17.

During the season, Edwards was in touch with some of the Tulsa players whom she'd known previously, so she had insight into what was happening there and how they felt about it.

I was forced to sit and really embrace the game from the sidelines at a different angle than when I was playing. That's what I wasn't used to; I had to learn to be successful on the sidelines. And that was a hard transition for a player like me.

-- Teresa Edwards, on how a broadcasting career has helped her better assess players

She gives a frank and honest assessment of where both she and Richardson think the Shock are after one season in Oklahoma: optimistic, but still figuring things out.

"For all the changes that Coach made last season, we know it's hard to say, 'OK, we can start right here and build,'" she said. "I think he's still searching for that nucleus that's needed."

The Shock did not win the draft lottery last month; that prize went to Minnesota. It would seem likely the Lynx will take UConn star Maya Moore with that pick. Tulsa selects No. 2, and there are a lot of different directions the Shock could take with that.

"We're in position to hopefully go after a franchise-building type of player," Edwards said. "Someone who is going to be willing to carry that load, for the team to brand success upon. I do think that if any team is in a position to redefine itself quickly, Tulsa is."

Edwards is still working for now out of her home base in Atlanta. She'll do a lot of scouting work this college season before moving to Tulsa in the spring. She thinks her broadcasting work has helped her become better prepared for assessing players.

"Because I really paid attention to the kids, style of play and their development," she said. "I was forced to sit and really embrace the game from the sidelines at a different angle than when I was playing. That's what I wasn't used to; I had to learn to be successful on the sidelines. And that was a hard transition for a player like me."

But she thinks maybe this whole past summer, she was preparing for a change, at least subconsciously.

"I kept up with the team all season, and I think I was intuitively interested in working with them even if I didn't realize that," Edwards said, chuckling. "But I was still surprised that Coach Richardson reached out to me. I heard he had talked to various people like Coach Landers before he talked to me. And then he called and asked me if I might be interested.

"I've never really not been interested in listening to somebody, because I would never want to miss an opportunity. So I was very open when he called."

She did not know all that much about Richardson beyond the basics, and has enjoyed learning more about him, his career and his philosophy. Considering the heat Richardson took this season from various critics, bringing on Edwards at least suggests he's willing to try something different.

"He knows what he wants and where the franchise needs to be by next April," Edwards said. "I've loved getting to know more about him. I've built a lot of respect for him in a short period of time. He's tried some different things as a coach that I look forward to finding out more about."

And, as Edwards mentioned, the chance to impact the pro players in ways beyond basketball is part of what has lured her to this, too. She went through many years playing in Europe, the launch and collapse of the ABL, and then an initially distrustful and guarded relationship with the WNBA.

She understands the ups and downs of a pro career, the injury risks (compounded now, she knows, by players competing so many months out of the year) and trying to find a balance between the game and everything else.

"I know I have a lot of basketball in me to share," she said, "but there's a lot of life, too."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.