MINNEAPOLIS — To Teresa Edwards, Minnesota is just another stop. One more piece she can add to her long and illustrious career.
Her new Lynx coaches and teammates, however, realize that Edwards' decision to finally join the WNBA as a 38-year-old rookie point guard is anything but routine.
The only American basketball player to compete in five Olympics and one of the true pioneers of the women's sport throughout its popularity swell of the past two decades, Edwards was taken by Minnesota with the 14th pick in this year's draft.
"You can't have more of a legend," said second-year forward Tamika Williams, whose childhood bedroom decoration included posters of Edwards.
The Lynx, entering season No. 5, have never made the playoffs, and All-Star guard Katie Smith has been their only experienced starter and consistent contributor.
They seem to need Edwards a lot more than she needs them.
Asked for the area in biggest need of improvement for 2003, Smith blurted, "Point guard position."
A veteran leader next to Smith is something the Lynx have always been lacking.
"That's huge," Smith said. "I'm really, really excited to have her and just to play with her. I think that'll be good for all of us."
Coach Suzie McConnell Serio, a teammate of Edwards' on the 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams who is two years younger than the 5-foot-11 native of Cairo, Ga., bumped into Edwards at the women's Final Four in Atlanta last month.
McConnell Serio, hired by the Lynx in January, knew her new team was short on experience. Her initial query as to Edwards' willingness to play this summer was met with a lukewarm response, but she persisted.
And it paid off.
"It's huge," said McConnell Serio, herself a former point guard who was WNBA rookie of the year in 1998 for the Cleveland Rockers. "She brings a great deal.
"I just know how important that position is to the team. What a good fit it will be for her."
Why take the non-negotiable $30,000 first-year player salary with a mediocre team in a league still struggling to secure some long-term success?
"My boring answer is, 'It just felt right,"' Edwards said earlier this month as the Lynx scrambled to start training camp after the league and the players' union finalized a new collective bargaining agreement.
"I think Suzie called me at the right time," Edwards said. "She comes after what she wants. She did her homework. She made me no promises. Hopefully I'll represent her well."
After playing in two Final Fours with Georgia in 1983 and 1985, Edwards became an Olympic star and played several seasons overseas until the American Basketball League was founded in 1996 following Team USA's Gold medal at the Atlanta Summer Games.
Edwards played three years with the Atlanta Glory, becoming head coach in 1997, and moved on to the Philadelphia Rage in a 1998-99 season that was never completed.
The league folded, and Edwards -- unlike most of her fellow players -- wasn't interested in signing on with the WNBA. The pay wasn't good enough, and -- mentally -- she was spent.
So pickup games against the guys in an Atlanta gym became her competition for the next few years, save for a trip to Sydney for the 2000 Olympics and a stint in France this spring with EuroLeague champion Valenciennes.
She was the only member of the 2000 Olympic team who wasn't in the WNBA.
The desire to return to organized American competition didn't burn again until April 25, the day of the draft, when McConnell Serio called her for a commitment.
Suddenly, the passion was there.
"It's my gift," Edwards said. "It's what I do."
Those pickup games kept her in shape, she said, so the biggest challenge became trying to get to know her new teammates.
Edwards, who turns 39 in July, will bring a combination of wisdom and feistiness that most of the Lynx aren't used to playing with.
"You either love me or you don't," she said. "I only know one way to play. That's hard. That's competitive.
"The challenge is within themselves, not with me. It has nothing to do with me. It's not that big a deal. I have no life lessons to give them. I'm still learning. I definitely want to build a winning tradition and build something here."
Sounds as if she's planning to say awhile.
"We'll see," she said. "We'll take it one year at a time. ... I don't think I have 10 in me."
The Lynx will gladly start with one.