HIGH POINT, N.C. – They carried the memories of Zach Lederer on their trip south, because his death happened so suddenly they couldn’t plan for much else.
Sure, they had prepared themselves for this moment as the former student manager spent the past two months off life support, fighting the brain cancer like he always had. But Lederer passed away on Tuesday and the Maryland men’s basketball team was scheduled to leave for the ACC tournament on Wednesday. There was no time to sew patches or even pack pictures. They attended a candlelight vigil outside Comcast Center, went to sleep, woke up and boarded a plane.
So the Terrapins came with what they had, which in a way was more than enough. They brought the words of encouragement Lederer often gave them, when the impact of his sheer presence put things into perspective. They brought the image of “Zaching,” the strongman pose that inspired a movement. They brought his spirit, embodied in his motto, “Living the Dream,” which gave them license to enjoy their experience over the program’s final days in this conference.
“It’s tough,” said forward John Auslander, the team’s lone senior. “It’s an emotional thing just because he’s been fighting cancer for so long and he’s been in our thoughts since the battle started. But Zach would want us to go out there and give everything we have. He’s in our prayers. We’re going to dedicate this tournament to him.”
As practice finished at Wesleyan Christian Academy, where former Maryland guard Keith Gatlin coaches the varsity boys’ team, the mood was light. Lederer would have insisted it be that way. The Terps took half-court attempts, hollering and dancing around whenever someone hit the rim or, in several cases, made a shot. Then they boarded the team bus and rode to the team hotel, where Coach Mark Turgeon planned to hold a team meeting to discuss how they wanted to honor Lederer.
Point guard Seth Allen said he planned to write Lederer’s name on his shoes. The team managers, those closest to Lederer, might wear sneakers instead of dress shoes, which college basketball coaches have done to raise awareness for the fight against cancer. At the vigil, guard Dez Wells and forward Spencer Barks addressed the crowd that numbered several hundred.
“How you measure success in life is not how much money you have, but how many lives you change,” Wells said. “He was definitely successful. Knowing Zach, he doesn’t want us to mourn his death. He wants us to celebrate his life. I think that celebrating his life last night, me saying the words I said and everybody else saying what they said, I think it put everybody in good perspective of what should really matter in life. Life is a lot bigger than basketball and sports and stuff like that. The relationships in life are the things we should really hold onto. I’ll never forget the relationship I had with Zach, because he was a special person.”
Wells first met Lederer when he transferred to Maryland two summers ago. Lederer was in a wheelchair then, and Wells was immediately struck by his zeal for life. When Wells was a teenager, he had lost a cousin to cancer. That drew him and Lederer closer together.
“I definitely keep him in mind when I’m out there playing,” Wells said. “Getting that extra stop isn’t as hard as you think it is, knowing what he had to battle through. It definitely put things in perspective for everybody on the team and everyone who knew him.”