COLLEGE PARK — The pain, Dez Wells said Saturday, is familiar. It is personal. The Maryland wing lost a cousin to cancer when he was 14 years old. She was only 7.
Zach Lederer, maybe the most famous student manager in Maryland basketball history, is older than that, but the anguish in College Park was no less intense, the end to come no less unsettling. The 20-year-old Ellicott City native, whose strongman pose and indomitable spirit in the face of brain cancer spawned a viral homage, was taken off life support Friday night, family members said. He is still breathing, but “I know it’s not a very good situation right now,” coach Mark Turgeon said after practice Saturday.
“I’ve been texting back and forth with his family,” he added. “He’s not doing well. That’s all I know.”
Lederer’s grandmother, Howard County Del. Elizabeth Bobo, said that the 20-year-old continued to inspire his family with his positive attitude.
“Zach is setting the tone,” she said. “He’s set the tone for the past two years. We all follow his lead. The entire family, particularly his parents and his sister, are acting with incredible courage and love.”
Erroneous reports surfaced Friday night that Lederer, who joined the basketball program in 2011 as a freshman, had succumbed to cancer. In a tweet Saturday morning, Julia Lederer, his sister, posted a picture updating Lederer’s status: “He is breathing very well, his vital signs are that of an athlete and he continues to exude love and affection to his family and friends. He is giving us another gift and teaching us about strength and endurance all the while supporting others. We hope to take Zach home in the next day or so and utilize home hospice.”
The subject of Lederer was the last one broached in interviews with Turgeon and Wells on Saturday, but even as a game against Florida State the next day loomed, the two spoke passionately. Their intimate bond with Lederer, who had meant so much to so many people, would endure, in sickness and in health.
"When he was here, with what he’d gone through his whole life, he stayed positive about it," Turgeon said. "When he approached practice in my first year, we weren’t a very good basketball team, and he didn’t accept that. It rubbed off us on all of us.
“I got an email from somebody who said, ‘He’s only 20 years old, and he’s touched more people than some people who live to be 80.’”
Added Wells: “I’ll dedicate every game for the rest of my career to him, for his strength and his courage and everything he's done for everybody around him.”
Many expressed their support for Lederer and his family on social networking sites as news spread that Lederer’s health was failing.
College Park president Wallace D. Loh wrote in a Twitter post that “We are praying for Zach. He is an inspiration to the #UMD family and all of us send our love.”
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman tweeted a message of encouragement.
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted that the Lederer family was in his prayers, adding, “The strength that [Lederer] shows is unreal!!!”
Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun