He may have been just five years old, but make no mistake, Andre Quarles had found his mecca. Amidst rocks and roots, dust and dirt, his backyard court might as well have been The Dean Dome, Cameron Indoor or The Boston Garden. The rim originally was fashioned by his father, Lonnie, out of a concoction of nails, a hoop and some timber. After a while, a local welder came by and attached the hoop to a metal pole, creating a goal strong enough to handle the dunks of Quarles and his high school teammates like Paul Jones or Robert Shelton.
“All those kids got a lot of playing time in here in the yard,” Lonnie Quarles said as he reflected back on his simplistic yet beautiful creation. “There’d be so much dust in the summer months. They’d dust that thing down. I’d go to bed and they’d be out there late at night.”
Those late-night sessions paid dividends. Quarles’ freshman year, head coach Fitzgerald Barnes brought him up for a few varsity games. Midway through his sophomore year, Quarles found himself in the starting lineup.
But Barnes’ message was clear. Certainly, Louisa played a fast-paced game modeled after Arkansas’ “Forty Minutes of Hell,” but Quarles’ job was to spread the ball out. Turnovers would not be accepted.
Heading into the 1994 season, it was back to the drawing board for Quarles. Ninety-degree days didn’t matter. Gnarly roots in his dribbling path were just part of the mystique a backyard court offers.
“I felt like every day I needed to work on my game. I knew Robert [Shelton] was working on his game. I knew Paul [Jones] was working on his game,” Quarles said. “A lot of it was just working on my dribbling skills. I know sometimes my dad would look at me like I was crazy.”
It seems in sports, spectacular results are accomplished through unspectacular means. Trash cans served as defenders. Quarles used whatever it would take to get his game to the next level.
“I had a brick wall, and I would just dribble against the wall with my left hand,” Quarles said.
By the start of his junior year, Quarles was a general. Sure, Shelton got the points, but if someone wasn’t doing their job, it was Quarles who would approach them with his mantra of “Step up, or step off.” It didn’t matter that Quarles stood just 5’8 and weighed 150 pounds, if the 6’4 Shelton or 6’6 Jones didn’t bring the intensity, Quarles brought down the hammer.
To read the entire story, see the March 20 edition of The Central Virginian.