He says he plays for his fallen cousin, and also, Tim Quarterman says he plays for the kids growing up in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia.
And today, Tim Quarterman can add another to the list he plays for: The Portland Trail Blazers.
Quarterman on Friday won the 15th and final roster spot on the Blazers, when the team announced the 6-foot-6 undrafted rookie point guard out of LSU beat out veteran center Greg Stiemsma, power forward Grant Jerrett and wing Luis Montero.
“I know I’m fortunate to get this opportunity,’’ Quarterman said. “I look forward to getting better throughout the year. I think I’m going to have an impact on this league in a couple of years.’’
He is pushed by competing against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in practices, but he is motivated by two things that run much deeper than basketball.
In February of 2014, his cousin and close friend Rashaad Spann was shot in the back and killed in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia.
Quarterman was a freshman at LSU when he received the call. It both devastated and changed him.
“It has driven me ever since that day,’’ Quarterman said. “It’s my purpose.’’
In the two years since, his purpose has expanded. Spann’s memory still motivates him to get in the gym and as Quarterman says, “have an edge on the court,” but he also plays for so many more: the kids of Savannah.
“I want to give the city something to be motivated about, give the kids something to look up to,’’ Quarterman said.
He smiles when he talks of Savannah, a port town on Georgia’s eastern shore. He brags how the city attracts tourists to its cobblestone streets and how the River Street district entertains both locals and visitors.
“I love my city,’’ he says.
But he worries that the youth have little to dream about, little to guide them. An NBA player hasn’t come out of Savannah since Pervis Ellison (1989-2000).
“There were a lot of people who were good that I looked up to who gave up on their dream,’’ Quarterman said. “I don’t want to be that dude to give up, and the next kid look at me and say, ‘Well, he had it, but he didn’t make it, so I don’t think I can make it.’’’
He pauses and thinks of his path. His cousin murdered. Going undrafted. Trying to make a team that already has three point guards.
“I want the next kid to say, ‘He went through this, that and the third and he still made it,’’’ Quarterman said. “Maybe that kid says, ‘Maybe I can do it the right way and make it too.’’’
Quarterman, who turns 22 on Thursday, made it with the Blazers thanks to what Lillard and McCollum said is a driven work ethic and a never-back-down attitude on defense.
Little did they know, but when training camp started for Quarterman, it was with a heavy heart. He felt pangs of loneliness when he arrived in Portland because he knew Spann would normally be the first to check in with a text or a phone call.
But those pangs only reminded him of his “purpose” – to play with an edge to honor Spann.
The Blazers’ stars didn’t know his back story, only that this undrafted kid was coming right at them.
“He reminds me of somebody who comes from my neighborhood,’’ Lillard said. “From Day One, he wasn’t scared. He was himself: Competing, not shy … comfortable, confident.’’
Quarterman is 6-foot-6, which makes him tall and long for a point guard, and he is so gangly that teammates chide him about his weight. But that’s where it ends. On the court, they say he can play.
“Defensively, he is pretty good,’’ McCollum said. “He’s active, long and he works hard. Extremely hard. He is going to be a good player.’’
Added Lillard: “He’s like a pest.’’
Coach Terry Stotts called Quarterman a "young player with upside" after Quarterman learned of making the team Friday.
Quarterman left LSU after his junior season, when he averaged 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He was stung when he went undrafted, and experienced another bump in the road when he seldom played for Charlotte’s Summer League team in Orlando.
To Quarterman, they are not setbacks, but rather the fabric that weaves his story. A story, he says, that those in Savannah will one day read with a happy ending.
“Eventually, when I go back one day, I will be looked at differently,’’ Quarterman said of his hometown. “I will be looked at as somebody who made it, came back and gave back, somebody who tried to help other kids make it. That’s big for me.’’