Edwards remains a class act

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Teresa Edwards and Teresa Weatherspoon recall the day they first met at a USA Basketball event around 1987.

"Oh, I knew who she was," Weatherspoon said. "I walked in and was like, 'Wow, isn't she awesome?'"

Edwards smiled and scoffed, "Surely not."

Edwards, who would eventually become a five-time Olympian, had finished her college career at Georgia the year before. Weatherspoon was preparing for her senior season at Louisiana Tech, which would end in the 1988 NCAA championship.

Several months later, they would end up as teammates on the U.S. team that won gold in the Seoul Olympics. But this was still eight years before the short-lived ABL began, and nine before the start of the WNBA.

So after the '88 Summer Games, Edwards and Weatherspoon embarked upon the odyssey that elite women's players who wanted to continue competing had to take. They went overseas -- and this was before the Internet and cell phones could keep an American abroad in close touch with the United States.

Weatherspoon said U.S. players tried to assimilate as best they could in whatever country they were in, cherishing any contact with fellow Americans. It was a lifestyle that could be quite lonely, but it was the price players paid to keep from giving up the game.

So when it was time for a USA Basketball tryout for any international event, Edwards said, "We could not wait to see each other and play at that level again. I thrived on those days; the best of the best could come out of you."

It did, often, for both of them. And this weekend, the two Teresas will go into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in the same class, along with their fellow Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Lobo, former Maryland coach Chris Weller, Texas high school coach Leta Andrews and Gloria Ray, a former Tennessee athletic administrator who was the driving force behind this facility, which is honoring its 12th class of inductees.

It's particularly intriguing that Edwards and Weatherspoon would end up entering the hall together, as both were the same kind of "old-school" player. They were guards born in the South, playing for iconic college programs and coaches in Andy Landers and Leon Barmore.

Edwards is from Cairo, Ga., in the southwestern part of the Peach State near the Florida border. Weatherspoon is from Pineland, Texas, in the east-central area of the Lone Star State, close to Louisiana.

Weatherspoon is now head coach at her alma mater, and led Louisiana Tech back to the NCAA tournament this past season. Edwards does broadcasting work, loves to write and gives camps and clinics.

Weatherspoon was with the WNBA from its 1997 launch, spending most of her career with the New York Liberty, where she was teammates for a while with Lobo. Edwards had been very committed to the ABL and was quite disappointed when that league folded. So much so that she took a lot of time before deciding to play in the WNBA.

Edwards won't rule out the option of coaching again; she did it previously as an assistant with the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. But she has always had some trepidation about how her personality meshes -- or doesn't mesh -- with coaching. She thinks maybe she is too demanding, that what she asked of herself as a player might be more than today's players are willing to give.

"When we were teenagers, we would go out and play on our own, and we'd beg guys to let us play pickup games with them," Edwards said. "A lot of times, we'd watch these guys play for hours before we'd get on the court. We had to learn the game and figure out how we'd be able to stay on the court. Our instincts took over after watching it.

"These kids today, I don't think they figure out what they're made of on their own the same way. Their instincts aren't always there. We had to observe."

Weatherspoon, who always had coaching in the back of her mind all through her playing career, assesses today's younger players in a similar way.

"The athleticism is there, without a doubt," she said. "But the understanding of the game isn't always there, the knowledge. You wonder if it's being taught. Sometimes when players are so athletic, people assume that they know things they don't actually know.

"I'll tell kids, 'You have every tool to play well, but let me teach you how to use those tools.' And I also tell them they have to learn the history of the game. You can't get anywhere if you really don't know the history."

There was a lot of that -- history of the living variety -- on display here in Knoxville, as there is every induction weekend. On Friday, the inductees' friends and family members gathered at the Hall of Fame for what's called a "storytelling" session with an open microphone.

At first, it took the audience a little while to warm up, but then as each tale about or testament to an inductee was told, it seemed to embolden others to come forth. Former Maryland player Vicky Bullett spoke of being so shy in college that she had a difficult time making eye contact with her coach … until Weller told her the "trick" was looking at people just above their eyes.

Andrews, who coached her own daughters in high school, listened with pride as two of them came forward to talk about how their mother -- "Mama," as they say in Texas -- had been both a tough taskmaster and the best teacher they could have asked for.

Lobo, ever the wisecracker, was asked about her rebounding prowess at UConn and joked that it was mostly because teammate Kara Wolters missed a lot of shots. (You know the "Big Girl" will find a way to repay that zinger.)

Ray, who has a sort of elfin energy that remarkably can fill a room, said the most difficult hurdle in building the Hall of Fame was just convincing enough people initially that women's basketball deserved a place where it was commemorated.

Edwards and Weatherspoon both got moving tributes from siblings. Edwards' brother said she could always beat him one-on-one because "she didn't know how to miss." And Weatherspoon's sister cited how Teresa's competitive skills were flexed at a very young age, when she'd play marbles against local kids and come away having won all the best of the little orbs.

Weatherspoon still gets her competitive fix, of course, from coaching. Edwards said she hasn't really found a replacement in that regard that can even compare to playing. But she's going to keep looking.

"It's all about purpose," Edwards said. "If we all knew our purpose, the world would be much different. There's a journey to living out life and finding that purpose."

She glanced over her shoulder at the large picture of her hanging in the Hall of Fame, wearing her USA Basketball uniform.

"I'm totally focused," Edwards said of what she notices most about that frozen-in-time image of herself. "I wish everyone could know what it feels like to use your gift to live your life to the fullest, because that's how I played the game.

"When I see photos of me in action, I'm having so much fun. I'm giving it my all. I'm not only passing, dribbling and shooting; I'm trying to pick the other team apart, blend with my teammates and make a great play. It's so thrilling when that stuff comes together."

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