CLEMSON, S.C. -- Devin Gray has considered the cautionary tales of Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers. He prefers a more reassuring development that involved Monty Williams.
Gray, a Clemson University forward, wishes he weren't compared to any of those basketball players, but that's been the case since he had a heart attack six months ago.
Casual basketball fans are aware of the heart-related deaths of Lewis and Gathers. Less well-known is Williams, who sat out two seasons at Notre Dame after being diagnosed with a heart condition. The 24th pick in the NBA draft, Williams signed a multi-year contract with the New York Knicks last week.
"I'm glad to see they took a chance on him," Gray said. "Maybe someone will take a chance on me. I was glad when I saw that he got drafted, because his condition is worse than mine."
Actually, Williams has never been hospitalized for eight days following a heart attack, like Gray was. Last April 4, four days after his 22nd birthday and a few hours before Arkansas beat Duke in the NCAA title game, Gray was stricken. Doctors later determined the heart attack was caused by excessive thickness of the blood.
Gray, a Baltimore native who put St. Frances Academy on the prep basketball map, still has plans for a big senior season at Clemson, one that would leave the left-handed power forward as one of the Tigers' top all-time scorers. He still dreams of being selected in the NBA draft and playing professionally.
Gray, however, also understands that he might endanger his well-being by continuing to pursue basketball. After discussing the situation with family, coaches and legal counsel, he must decide whether to resume playing the sport that is such a big part of his life.
"If I knew there was a high possibility that something would happen to me later, I would walk away," Gray said. "There's a low, low risk involved."
There is enough risk, though, that Clemson will not allow Gray to play this season unless he signs a waiver that releases the university from liability should there be a basketball-related recurrence of heart problems. He is expected to return the signed waiver tomorrow, before the Tigers' first practice.
Gray also must take blood-thinning prescription medicines, and undergo tests before Clemson will allow him to play. Sometime next week, on a day when the Tigers have a particularly rigorous practice planned, he will wear a heart monitor for 24 hours. If the readings show no abnormalities, Gray will be cleared to play this season.
A Sept. 20 stress test cleared him to join a preseason conditioning program.
"I want to go, go, go," Gray said, "but they've made me go slow."
After being released in mid-April from a hospital in Greenville, S.C., Gray recuperated at the Baltimore home of his high school coach, William Wells, and was treated and evaluated at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. A Clemson team doctor said he couldn't detect any heart disease.
"There was no evidence of disease in the vessels, no evidence of a condition," said Dr. Stewart Clarkson, Clemson's team physician. "He does not have narrowing of the arteries. There appears to be very little abnormality in the motion of the heart wall, which indicates little damage to the heart muscle.
"We can't guarantee to Devin whether this is related to basketball or not. Were it to occur in a basketball game, it could cause him problems. It's up to him to take the responsibility to play or not. You've got to weigh the risks vs. the benefits."
Clemson has a new coach, Rick Barnes, and an inexperienced roster. Gray, 6 feet 6 and 245 pounds, is the Tigers' only player to have proven himself in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"There isn't any question our team takes on a different complexion with him than without him," said Barnes, who in 1991 tried to recruitGray to play at Providence. "Beyond his basketball ability, his presence with the players makes a difference. These guys believe in Devin Gray."
Barnes stressed it is Gray's decision alone whether he plays.
"No one here has ever put pressure on him to play. Devin knows everything he has to know. If one doctor told him there was danger, I don't think he would play. If people say he can play, is it fair for us to say he can't? The bottom line is that it's his call."
Wells has been a major influence in Gray's life since he entered St. Frances as a freshman in 1987. Gray moved into the Wells home the following year, and said, "we've always been like father and son."
Wells, a Baltimore City recreation director who also teaches and coaches at St. Frances, said he told Gray not to limit his future to basketball.
"Devin wants to be in the limelight, that's his dream," Wells said. "I want him to play, but on the other hand, I want Devin to come out of Clemson with a degree. Our kids need to know you don't have to go to the NBA to be successful. He's gone miles from where he started, and he feels he can't stop now."
"He [Wells] told me to keep an open mind," Gray said. "If I do have to walk away, I'll do it."
Gray considered leaving Clemson after his junior season to enter the 1994 draft, but that became moot following the heart attack. It's the latest, and biggest, in a series of obstacles he has faced.
Wells said when Gray entered St. Frances, he "was a raw talent who could jump, but he couldn't hold onto a ball."
The program didn't have a varsity when he arrived, but by his senior season, St. Frances sat atop the Baltimore Catholic League and Gray was the state's top college prospect. That season ended prematurely, because of an emergency appendectomy. He didn't meet the NCAA academic requirements for freshman eligibility until after he graduated from St. Frances.
At Clemson, Gray was a part-time starter as a freshman and was the Tigers' leading scorer as a sophomore. Clemson foundered under lame-duck coach Cliff Ellis last season, but Gray led the ACC in field-goal percentage, averaged 14.4 points per game and was a third-team ACC all-star.
"If it works out that Devin gets to play, I hope it's the greatest story in college basketball this year," Barnes said.
Gray knows that his life has changed. He said he's more conscientious about diet and conditioning, and is taking nothing for granted.
"Basketball is very important to me," Gray said, "but it's not more important than life."
F: A year-by-year look at Devin Gray's totals at Clemson:
Season .. Pts. .. PPG .. Reb. .. RPG
1991-92 .. 293 .. 10.9 .. 138 .. 5.1
1992-93 .. 500 .. 16.7 .. 164 .. 5.5
1993-94 .. 431 .. 14.4 .. 180 .. 6.0
Totals .. 1224 .. 14.1 .. 482 .. 5.5