It happened just like many people expected it to last year: Quantez Leach became a household name in Johnston County. It wasn’t, however, for the reason many had expected. As the basketball legacy of “Tez,” as his friends and teammates know him, was just beginning at Smithfield-Selma High School, he started to experience random sickness last fall. It turned out to be Hodgkin’s Disease.
Soon, classmates and community members were banding together to Pray4Tez as he started chemotherapy treatments. He became an inspiration for others, drawing praise from the likes of Deion Sanders and others.
He finished his treatments in September and – once the disappointment of missing the football season passed - has focused on being as ready as he could be for the Spartans’ basketball team.
Leach talked with our Michael Held after a Spartans’ scrimmage on Wednesday about the past year he’s experienced and what he expects from the SSS basketball team this season. One that included a monster dunk by Leach which thrilled the crowd and him but he admitted to banging up his hand a little bit on the rim. It was a small price to pay and nothing comparable to the battle he’s endured over the past year.
Q: What was your mind-set like when you first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease?
A: “Since I had to deal with it, there was no choice but just to go through with it the best I could.”
Q: What were the treatments like?
A: “It was tough. There wasn’t anything easy about it but I just thought about staying positive throughout it and that the pain was temporary and would be over later. It hit me that first day as soon as I hit the chair though.”
Q: How many treatments did you have?
A: “I had eight cycles. Sept. 12 was my last one.”
Q: What was it like when you realized you weren’t going to be able to play football?
A: “It was tough. Football was my first sport and I’ve been playing it since I was five or six years old. It was my first love. When the doctor came in and told me I couldn’t play football, there was a guy (a relative of another patient receiving chemotherapy) in there who saw me drop my head right before they gave me my treatment. Then he just started talking to me and I didn’t want to talk to him to be honest because I was feeling so bad. He told me to think of something else and if I couldn’t play football, then I should just focus on basketball. He just gave me a bunch of advice and helped me to see things more clearly.”
Q: What helped you to remain mentally tough?
A: “My Mom always told me, ‘If you can be mental, then you can be physical.’ If I was mentally tough, I knew there was no way that fatigue could stop me because I’m going to be physical regardless like I’ve always been. The only thing that could hold me back was myself.
“The people, I’ve got to thank them because they kept me up. For all that they did for me, talking to me. They’re the ones who really helped me get through everything I went through. People would come in and support me when I was getting treatments and then would come by the house and see how I was doing.”
Q: How could you sum up what the past several months have been like for you?
A: “Overall, it’s been a tough journey but it’s helped me to see things more clearly. It made me think, ‘You need to stop playing Tez.’ You need to do what you need to do to do what you want to do. I knew that I needed to turn myself around. Things before like I wouldn’t be involved in things, now I’m involved in things. Before I wouldn’t help people, but I’m helping people now because you never know when someone that’s there who is helping you needs your help.”
Q: Do you have any worries or concerns now that you are back on the court?
A: “No, I’m just fine. I’m probably healthier now than I was before and I’m a lot stronger too because of the weights, eating right, and listening to my Mom.”
Q: How has this whole process changed you?
A: “I couldn’t do what I loved to do. That’s why you can’t take things for granted. That’s why I put my work in so hard, I’m going to class and putting my work in on the basketball court. I always focused on school, but now I’m focusing on school tremendously.”
Q: What are your personal goals?
A: “This is a good school. I just want my name to be here forever, to be honest. I know I have to leave a foundation this year. I want to go to college and make a name for myself and that starts now.”
Q: What do you like about this team?
A: “I like this team; we’ve got a lot of height. With the height that we’ve got, if everybody gets in the right position we’re going to be strong.”
Q: Who are you excited about playing with again for one more season?
A: “Zay (Best), Tony (Hobbs) and Tito (Campbell) – we always have a lot to talk about and things that we should do to get better. What I’ve been talking with them about is we’ve got to make it fun. Let’s make it a fun season while it’s our last. These are memories that we’ll always have.”
Q: You have a saying on the back of your team shirts: “The Weak Don’t Live Here, Only the Strong Survive.” What inspired that?
A: “I’ve never been weak. I was always a strong person. If you’re weak, then you aren’t going to survive in this world the way it is now.”
Q: What do you think this team can accomplish?
A: “We haven’t been to the playoffs in I don’t know how long but I can tell you this right now, we are going this year.”