Tim Quarterman shifts uncomfortably in his chair, which is parked in front of his Moda Center locker, and avoids eye contact when the conversation turns to a topic that the newest member of the Portland Trail Blazers would rather avoid: himself.
“I don’t like to talk a lot,” Quarterman said, as the corner of his mouth twisted up into a smile while his eyes remained locked on his shoes.
The former LSU guard is known for putting his head down and doing his job. That no-nonsense approach helped Quarterman, who went undrafted after three seasons with the Tigers, land a highly-coveted roster spot. It’s also helped forge a quick bond with Damian Lillard, his All-Star teammate.
Lillard, Portland’s franchise player, said he looks down the bench and sees his own work ethic and soft-spoken personality in Quarterman.
“Coming from the kind of place that he and I come from, you don’t say too much,” Lillard said. “You go out there and get your work done. He’s not a big mouth. He’s not just constantly talking and acting overly excited about being here. He’s like, ‘I got to work my way in. I’m going to earn my stay.’ And I like that about him.”
Quarterman, Lillard, and the Blazers host the Pelicans at 9 p.m. Friday.
A Savannah, Georgia, native, Quarterman speaks with a slight Southern drawl and politely answers questions with a “Yes, ma’am.” Like Lillard, he credits his mother’s guidance for his success. Lillard, who hails from Oakland, California, said the two guards share a “neighborhood swagger,” even though they were raised on opposite sides of the country.
“We laugh about stuff, and we don’t have to come out and explain it,” Lillard said. “It’s unspoken chemistry. I make a face at something and he knows exactly what I’m thinking. A ‘Town Business’ kind of thing. We relate.”
The 22-year-old Quarterman grew up idolizing Tracy McGrady playing for the Orlando Magic. Several Southeastern Conference schools expressed interest in him, but he fell in love with LSU on a recruiting trip. During his junior season, Quarterman started alongside Ben Simmons, the No. 1 draft pick in the 2016 draft. Quarterman said the two players were “good friends and teammates,” but LSU’s season ended in disappointment after failing to make the NCAA tournament.
“We had a lot of good players on that team but we had a lot of young players so it didn’t go the way we thought it would,” Quarterman said. “But I don’t ever regret nothing,”
Quarterman, a 6-foot-6 point guard, averaged 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 99 games over three seasons with the Tigers. After he wasn’t one of the 60 players selected on draft night, Quarterman played with the Charlotte Hornets in the Las Vegas summer league before he became the first and youngest player to be signed to Portland’s training camp roster.
“Going undrafted wasn’t hard,” Quarterman said. “It just made me humble myself again.”
Although he only played 16 minutes during the preseason, Quarterman managed to beat out Grant Jerrett, Luis Montero, and Greg Stiemsma to earn Portland’s 15th roster spot. All three players had previous NBA experience.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts told reporters Quarterman made the team because he has “good upside” and “a good basketball IQ.”
“As a young player, he comes every day and works,” Stotts said. “When we have practices, he’s able to compete against and push our starters and our rotation players so that they are able to benefit from our practices.”
Despite the excitement of making his NBA dreams come true, Quarterman refused to allow himself to become complacent.
“Making the team gave me a little more confidence,” Quarterman said. “But it made me realize I have to grind that much more to try to get some minutes on the floor.”
That’s exactly what Lillard likes about him: Quarterman understands his role and doesn’t take anything for granted.
“He works hard,” Lillard said. “Every morning I get there and sometimes when you have rookies or younger players you have to coach them up and let them know what their role is.”
The All-NBA point guard said he hasn’t had to put Quarterman in his place because the rookie is always early to practice and carefully follows instructions.
After being placed on the inactive list for Portland’s first eight games, Quarterman got his chance to play late in a blowout loss to the Clippers on Nov. 9. He made the most of his six minutes on the court, scoring four points while making both of his shot attempts.
“It felt good going out there to play my first NBA game,” he said. “I thought about all the hard work it took to get to this point. It felt good to finally go out there and get a basket.”
Three games later, Quarterman dished two assists in four minutes of play during a loss to the Bulls. He understands playing time will be hard to come by in Portland’s backcourt this season, given that Lillard and his backcourt partner, CJ McCollum, both log heavy minutes. For the time being, that means Quarterman will spend most of this season waiting his turn and working to keep his teammates sharp in practice.
“This year is a developmental year for Tim,” Stotts said. “If and when he gets an opportunity on the court, that’ll be great. But his priority is coming here to work and not only improving himself but working to get us better as a team.”
Quarterman’s two-year contract gives Portland the option to retain him for the 2017-18 season. If the Blazers decide to keep him, he will earn more than $900,000. There are no guarantees for any player in his position at the end of a team’s roster, but Quarterman’s approach and play have combined to make a good first impression. And he has Lillard on his side.