What do you do when you're a two-time NCAA champion, an Olympic gold medalist and the WNBA MVP by age 23? You keep working to get better.
It sounds simplistic. Even kind of drab and boring, right? Except it's the formula for greatness, and there aren't any easy roads to get there. Nothing replaces the time in the gym, the commitment to fitness, the unforgiving demands of goal setting.
So in the case of New York post player Tina Charles, who is in the midst of making a compelling run for another MVP award, we already know the general answer as to why she's one of the most consistently productive players in the league. She works very hard at it.
However, there are specifics as to why Charles has been able to ratchet her own high bar up a little higher.
She has improved her perimeter shooting. She has fully committed to being a premier defender. She is embracing areas of team leadership that were initially less compatible with her somewhat strong, silent-type personality.
At age 27 and in her seventh season in the WNBA, Charles is in full bloom as a professional superstar. And it's exactly what the Liberty need from her.
"Consistency and stability go hand in hand, and she brings that," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said of Charles. "You know every night what you're going to get, and you can plan your team around her accordingly. There is much more to her now, though. Her defense last year was the best it's ever been, and this year, it's even better.
"She can easily be overlooked, because you just expect it from her. Overall, it's a consistent body of work. I don't think she gets nearly the amount of credit for what she does for our basketball team. She's not flashy, she's not emotional, she doesn't draw attention to herself."
"Her defense last year was the best it's ever been, and this year, it's even better. ... She passes out of the double-teams much quicker -- and smarter -- than she has before." Bill Laimbeer on how Tina Charles is even better in 2016
That's been true of Charles going back to her days as a star at UConn, where she won NCAA titles as a junior and senior before becoming the WNBA's top draft pick in 2010.
This season, Charles has been the Eastern Conference Player of the Week five times (which ties the WNBA's single-season record) and her numbers speak loudly: She's averaging a league-best 22.8 points -- four points better than her best average in her six completed seasons -- and 9.8 rebounds. Her career numbers are 17.7 PPG and 10.1 RPG.
For Charles, the key word always has been accountability, a trait inspired by her parents. She is the first to critique her own performances and find them lacking. She is motivated by a strong sense of "owing it" to her team to do more -- even when she's already doing plenty. There's a lot going on in her mind even when she's not showing any of it on her face.
"Every time you step on the court, you're playing for your teammates' and your coaches' respect," Charles said. "I'm playing for them and their trust, for them to be able to depend on me night in and night out.
"I know I've been blessed with great talents, and I'm always playing for a reason. I know a high percentage of what I do on the court can make it easier for my teammates. I put that weight on my shoulders, and I welcome it."
Now, you might be saying, "OK, but what's new? Charles has been a standout since she came into the league." Yes, that's true. But let's look at some more specific highlights we're seeing in 2016.
Charles has made 9-of-25 3-pointers this season; she attempted just 17 treys in her previous six seasons combined. She's shooting 78.3 percent from the free throw line (65-of-83), the second-best percentage of her WNBA career, behind just the 80.2 she shot from the line in her MVP season of 2012. And she's averaging a career-best 4.1 assists; her previous best was 2.4 last season.
Laimbeer has helped by trying to keep Charles in the power forward spot that is the best fit for her, rather than having her at center, where he can use Kiah Stokes, Carolyn Swords and Amanda Zahui B.
But Charles can take on whatever assignment she has to for the Liberty, who at 13-6 have the WNBA's third-best record behind Los Angeles and Minnesota.
"She'll guard anybody now," Laimbeer said. "If she has to go out on a small forward? No problem. We try to keep her away from the super-bigs, but she has no problem doing it.
"Our league's getting bigger all the time, and we don't necessarily need her sumo-wrestling with some of those players. That just drains her strength from what her necessity is for us: scoring and rebounding. And in this year, you've also seen her passing skills more."
"You look at someone like Tina, and it's a prime example of someone who has continued to get better and better." Tamika Catchings on Tina Charles
Laimbeer said that Charles particularly recognized during the 2015 playoffs how much teams were gearing their defenses toward stopping her.
"Now, she passes out of the double-teams much quicker -- and smarter -- than she has before," he said. "Every year her game is evolving, adding a piece."
That's something her fellow competitors have noticed.
"She has added different elements to her game," Indiana's Tamika Catchings said. "It's hard to be an MVP, make the All-Star Game, get these accolades. But the even harder part is, how do you stay at that level? Or improve? You have to work on your game and get better. You look at someone like Tina, and it's a prime example of someone who has continued to get better and better."
Charles will be on her second U.S. Olympic team in August. After that, she might have Liberty teammate Epiphanny Prince -- who has been out with a knee injury suffered in November 2015 -- back on the court. New York guard Sugar Rodgers (16.1 PPG) has taken a big step up in Prince's absence, but having both of those perimeter sharpshooters would boost the Liberty.
Regardless of who is around her, though, Charles isn't just ready to shoulder that heavy load -- she's flat-out eager to do it.
"I have learned to trust my teammates around me, too," Charles said. "I have no problem knowing if I don't make it easier on them -- by the way I play, by how hard I sprint down the floor even when I'm tired -- I'm not doing my job. My mindset has just become even more like that as I've gotten older in the game."