Fallen cousin drives improved Tim Quarterman

The difference in LSU's Tim Quarterman from his freshman to sophomore season has been night and day. Understanding what he's come through off the court, and how it's changed his outlook, informs the growth of his game.

Jarell Martin still remembers the moment well.

“We were here on campus, walking to class and his mama called and told him,” Martin recalled. “I started walking to tutoring, and he had a class. Next thing I know he was sitting outside the classroom and he was crying. I walked up to him and asked what was wrong. That’s when he told me.”

The news, dispatched from a deflated, emotional Tim Quarterman to Martin: Earlier that day – Valentine’s Day 2014 – Quarterman’s cousin and lifelong running mate Rashaad Spann was murdered in Savannah, Ga.

Spann, 20, was found by responding police in a car on the southeast side of Savannah in the wee hours of the morning, badly wounded by gunshot, and he died soon after at Memorial University Medical Center.

While the rest of the world was celebrating and seeking love on a commercial holiday, Quarterman was in utter despair, feeling trapped some 750 miles from home and crushed by the realization he’d never hang or hoop with Spann again.

It’s a malaise that clung to Quarterman, then a freshman guard on the LSU basketball team, for more than just days or weeks. His trouble with Spann’s passing, and where that left him in the world, rendered Quarterman more or less a basketball-playing drone down the stretch of his first season in Baton Rouge.

His heart just wasn’t in it.

Months would pass before Quarterman was in a proper headspace to move on, and even then, there was no certainty which path he’d choose.

“It was either go up or go down,” Quarterman told TSD, touching on his moment at the crossroads this summer. “That was the point I was at in my life. I could either make something out of it or just go down because I was letting it hurt me. It kept hurting me, just knowing I couldn’t get him back. So I found a way to use it as motivation to do better. I wanted to do something, work as hard as I can and make something out of my life.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Quarterman first arrived on campus with a great deal of promise, a rangy four-star prospect who at 6-foot-6 literally stood head and shoulders above guards LSU already had on the roster, including the sub-6-foot starting backcourt of Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer.

That made it all the more baffling why he struggled so mightily.

Quarterman endured a rough debut season
The Peach State import averaged 2.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting woeful percentages – 26.4 percent from the floor, 20.8 percent from three and 54.8 percent from the foul line. For the season Quarterman had more turnovers, 35, than field goals made, 28.

“I feel I could’ve done more to help the team last year,” Quarterman said matter-of-factly. “I also feel like I grew up after that because last season probably was one of the worst seasons I ever played in my life.”

Taking into account Spann’s death and the reverberations it had within Quarterman’s soul are one thing, but as the player himself and those close to him make clear, it’s not the only reason he failed to shine during the 2013-14 season.

“I think I could’ve been used in different situations last year, but we had a good older group,” explained Quarterman. “It was just about waiting my time. I think I was too anxious, going out there and trying to make plays that weren’t there. I tried to force it. All that played a part.”

On top of Hickey and Stringer, both upperclassmen, the Tigers also featured 6-foot-5 senior swingman Shavon Coleman. Each of the three contributed certain aspects of the game that were better refined than what Quarterman brought to the table at the time and, therefore, demanded the bulk of the playing time.

“I feel like with the veterans we had last year, he wasn’t able to produce that much,” leveled Martin, a close friend and fellow member of the incoming recruiting class of 2013.

LSU head coach Johnny Jones viewed the dynamic similarly.

“We knew coming out of high school (he had a chance to be special) with all the accolades he had and the way he impacted his high school team,” Jones reflected. “Then coming here last season, he had to play a certain role and only a few minutes because of the players that were in the program at the time.”

How Quarterman did, or more often didn’t, fit into the rotation last spring paled in comparison to what was going on internally with the player, lost and in perpetual pain with something only time and perspective could start to heal.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Spann, a year older than Quarterman, was more than just a relative on his mother’s side.

“Since childhood we did everything together from summer camp to middle school. We went to the same middle school then I ended up transferring,” Quarterman said. “We were supposed to go to the same high school, but they didn’t let him come to my school. We always tried to play on the same team, but we really ended up playing against each other a lot. We were so competitive against each other.”

They were not only battling for family bragging rights. Quarterman and Spann, a 6-foot-2 point guard, were climbing to the top of the mountain in Savannah prep hoops.

Spann, left, with Quarterman
In consecutive years Spann, at Jenkins High School after transferring from Groves, and then Quarterman, at Johnson High School, were tabbed as the player of the year in their region. And, occasionally, their burning competitive spirits bubbled over.

“We talked some trash,” Quarterman remembered with a devilish smile. “One time my junior year we played in the Civic Center. Back home that’s a big event, the Civic Center is like the biggest gym in Savannah. We played them and we beat them.

“But before the game I got up and was talking trash to him. He looked at me and said ‘If you want to fight, my mama’s gone out of town. You can meet me at the house after the game.’ As serious as it was, that’s a funny thought now. Even after games when we’d play, you’d catch us eating out somewhere or together somewhere.”

Spann battled a knee injury his senior year, ultimately limiting his options in basketball on the next level. In August 2012 he signed with Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill, S.C.

“He was in recovery a lot, so he didn’t get to play at Clinton. Even when he bounced back, he got hurt again. So there was just a lot of stuff he was going through,” relayed Quarterman. “But my freshman year he would always call me, talk to me and check on me. Every day.”

And things went on that way for a while, each serving as the other’s rock and sounding board. Up until that fateful morning on Valentine’s Day.

“It hurt. It hurt bad. And I didn’t know how to deal with it out here because I was so far away from home,” Quarterman admitted. “That was the reason I missed the Kentucky game (in Lexington) last year. I went to his funeral. It was crazy and I was hurting bad. My mama just told me to stay focused because my grades had dropped and a lot of stuff was happening. I was going through a lot.”

The toll taken on Quarterman was obvious to all, long after Feb. 22, when Spann was laid to rest at Woodville Cemetery right about the time the Tigers were tipping off against the Wildcats.

“It had a big effect,” said Martin. “I was right there when he got the news that he had passed. I knew that it brought him down. We talked about it a lot last year. I knew he was really hurt about it and he had a lot going on in his mind, a lot of pressure on him and stuff like that.”

From Jones’ point of view: “I thought he was affected. It certainly was a distraction for him for quite some time. A lot of times stuff like that is tough to deal with. He went through a period of time where you could definitely tell he was visibly affected by it.”

Making matters worse was the feeling of isolation for Quarterman and, even with his teammates and friends like Martin, having to walk that troubled road alone. Seemingly no one in his new home knew of the burden he was carrying.

Except one person, Quarterman revealed when asked about the Twitter handle @TimQuarterman1. That social media operator, assumed by many to be Quarterman, changed the tag line of the account to “Do it for Span” toward the end of last season.

“And that wasn’t even my Twitter account,” Quarterman said, pointing out the misspelling of Spann. “Respect, though, they knew who he was.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Back to the crossroads in Savannah early this summer, the setting of Quarterman’s inner rehabilitation.

The spring semester was over, he’d already gone through his postseason sit-down with Jones and, contrary to rumors that have flown around, Quarterman is adamant he never considered transferring for any reason – “LSU was my first choice and my only choice, so I stuck it out here.”

Quite the contrary Quarterman went back to Georgia armed with more confidence, told by Jones in that meeting he would have a much better sophomore follow-up and that there was a chance he could play a lot of minutes with Coleman and Stringer graduating and Hickey, now at Oklahoma State, parting ways with the program.

“I think after the season I got a lot of time to go home and collect my head,” Quarterman explained. “It was then that I made up my mind I was going to do it for my cousin. It gives me my extra motivation, and it just helps for real because when I’m out there it’s like a peace of mind. Even if I’m out there by myself, I feel better because I feel like he’s there with me.

“It feels like when I’m out there on that court now I’m doing it for more than one person, more than me. I’m doing it for my family and I’m doing it for him especially. He motivated me when I was younger and still does to this day.”

Then, in this tale of hopelessness and rebirth, comes the part that can’t be underscored – the hard work.

“I was in the gym two or three times a day – morning, midday, night,” recalled Quarterman. “I would come in and usually work out in the morning, go in the weight room in the midday and shoot at night. One of the players from last year, Johnny O’Bryant, he told me to keep working. He told me that I’m going to get where I want to be if I keep working. He sees it in me. Ever since then I’ve just been going hard every day, and I didn’t let off.”

He brought that work ethic and outlook to Baton Rouge and Atlanta, the two locales Quarterman frequented on his summer grind tour after leaving Savannah.

“I worked out with Shavon Coleman a lot in Baton Rouge. When I went back to Atlanta I worked out with my old AAU coach, an uncle of mine, Dion Glover, who used to play in the league,” continued Quarterman, who suited up for the Atlanta Celtics during high school summers. “I worked out with him a lot. I think that got me back where I need to be, just being around him every day like I was in AAU. I also had the privilege to work out with players like Jarrett Jack, Jordan Adams, people like that.”

What happened next, when season two at LSU tipped for Quarterman, almost feels preordained.

Minus the clutter from last season’s backcourt, and playing with a renewed purpose, Quarterman’s brilliance has shone, and the uniquely versatile guard is providing traces of the games from all three of LSU’s former perimeter players.

Through 11 games Quarterman has upped his statistical averages in every conceivable category, posting 10.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest. He's also been a drastically improved shooter, watching his percentages skyrocket from the field (44.1 percent), from beyond the arc (32.4 percent) and from the charity stripe (79.4 percent).

Then there was the Tigers' landmark win at No. 16 West Virginia on Dec. 4, when Quarterman, whose mentality defaults to pass-first, carried an LSU team decimated by foul trouble by tweaking his game, playing the role of scorer and delivering a memorable 21-point, seven-rebound performance.

“He knows he’s an important part of this team,” Martin recognized. “This year he goes out and dedicates his games to his cousin. I think that’s why it’s been so important to him to play hard each and every night, give his best. That’s something his cousin would’ve wanted.”

Jones, a former LSU player and longtime assistant, chalked up Quarterman’s maturation to learning from his mistakes and the lean times. “Like most guys he’s been able to go through his frustrations and see the benefit of doing that now.”

That doesn’t mean Jones is dismissive of the impact Spann has had on Quarterman, who’s receiving national publicity as one of the most improved players in college basketball.

“All that has a tendency of coming into play,” the third-year LSU coach acknowledged. “If he can channel his energies and his focus into something positive, that certainly helps. A lot of guys playing pull from something. That’s obviously something he’s chosen to set his sights on and it’s been beneficial for him.”

Maybe most interesting in Quarterman’s on-court resurgence is that he’s done most of his damage this year coming off the bench, a sixth-man extraordinaire logging 31.7 minutes a game.

“He could be as great a starter as he is coming off the bench playing starter minutes,” Jones drilled home. “It’s just so good for us because I’m not sure where else we would get that type of lift from our team. I’m not sure we’d have anyone else able to play that role and make that type of impact on everybody.”

Ironic? Surprising? Fitting? Choose any descriptor, as all may apply, but Quarterman, who looked out of sorts all last season, is now the spark LSU can’t do without. A young man that couldn’t find himself amid tragedy is now the player that gives the 2014-15 Tigers the identity Jones wants.

Tim Quarterman knows now more than ever what drives him, and in turn LSU. From lost to found, Quarterman is grateful for the primary force propelling him forward and doesn’t plan to let go anytime soon.

“My family. Gotta be my family,” Quarterman said on what motivates him most to play the game. “Just that inner thought that my cousin can’t play basketball anymore (motivates me). So it’s important for me to carry on his name with me as I go along the way. That’s my drive, my motivation wanting to go out there and win. Me and him used to play since we were little, and I don’t have him anymore. So I’m living out his name and keeping him with me wherever I go.”

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