ANDOVER -- Greg Devlin had an uncharacteristically off day on Wednesday afternoon.

The senior guard, with a sweet and reliable jumpshot, had some great looks. But on this day, they just wouldn't seem to fall, as Devlin and his Phillips Academy (Andover) boys basketball team fell to visiting Cushing Academy.

Normally, those jumpers drop through the net with great regularity. Devlin shot 61 percent (41-for-75) on 3-pointers as a junior, making him one of the most potent long-range threats in the entire New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC).

Devlin can live with those off days.

Westford’s Greg Devlin has overcome a rare blood disorder to star on the basketball court  and in the classroom  at Phillips Academy.Sun staff photos
Westford's Greg Devlin has overcome a rare blood disorder to star on the basketball court and in the classroom at Phillips Academy.

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He has no problem shaking them off and moving on. The Westford native feels grateful just for having the opportunity.

"Like my coaches always say, there are people in the world worse off than us. We should be thankful that we're getting the opportunity to play basketball," said Devlin. "That's exactly how I see it. I'm very thankful that I have the opportunity to be here, and to even play the game."

In August of 2007, Devlin was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a life-threatening disease in which the bone marrow and the blood stem cells that reside there are damaged, causing a deficiency of all three blood cell types (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets).


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It was a life-altering experience for the 12-year-old just as he was about to start seventh grade at Stony Brook Middle School in Westford.

Devlin underwent chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant from his older brother Rick. He lost his hair and missed an entire year of school in order to recover at Boston Children's Hospital.

For five weeks, Devlin was isolated in a small hospital room during his treatment.

By August of 2008 Devlin was, as he says, "good to go." Aplastic anemia can have a high risk of death, and relapses are common. But Devlin made a full recovery and was able to resume normalcy. An AAU standout by the age of 11, he could finally go back to doing what he truly loved -- playing basketball.

But that's just a small piece of who he is.

Along with being a hoop standout, Devlin is now a 5.0 student (on a 6.0 scale) at the prestigious Phillips Academy. He has his sights set on a career as a doctor in oncology or hematology, but is undecided on his college choice. Harvard is his dream school.

His tale isn't just about surviving, it's also about conquering.

"It's absolutely unbelievable. A lot of kids don't come out the same after those treatments," said Rich Devlin, Greg's father. "Greg is one of the few to go on and play a varsity sport. He is extremely fortunate. Then to play at such a high level is even more fortunate. It's almost inconceivable, because out of the kids that were on that ward at that time, some aren't here now.

"We were there with the best in the world at Dana Farber at Children's, so if you're going to have a chance, that's your best chance. It came down to finding a bone marrow match. They said there was a 25-percent chance it would either be (Greg's brother) Chris or Rick. And Rick was the match. All of the good things that have happened since then, like Phillips, being able to come here every day and practice, being able to stay physically fit and lead a very blessed life. It's these life challenges that have made him into such a strong character."

Devlin's youthful exuberance was a valuable asset during his ordeal.

He always stayed optimistic and was able to handle the treatment extremely well because his body was strong from years of physical activity. He got routine checkups at the Jimmy Fund Clinic from 2008-13 to monitor his health. After passing the five-year mark, he has now moved on to yearly checkups at the Survivor Clinic, which is affiliated with the Jimmy Fund. 

"I think the amazing thing is that a month after I was totally out of the woods, when I came back to basketball, I really hadn't lost anything despite the fact that I hadn't played in over a year," said Devlin, who lives on campus at Phillips. "When I got moved to the survivor clinic it was pretty meaningful to actually see the word 'survivor.' That's when I really started to feel blessed and fortunate."

Devlin is just 5-foot-10 and was a point guard during his years in the Westford and Chelmsford youth programs. However, he was always a knockdown shooter who needed little room to get his shot off. He attended a basketball camp run by former Boston College and Boston Celtics standout guard Dana Barros in 2004 at the age of nine, and put on a show with his shooting.

Devlin kept in touch with Barros. In eighth grade, the pair frequently trained together on weekends as Barros helped Devlin refine his shooting mechanics.

Devlin recently had a 27-point effort for Phillips, knocking down seven 3-pointers in the process.

"I think Greg is a really good player, especially pound for pound," said Phillips head coach Terrell Ivory. "I'm amazed by his ability to create his own shot and make big shots. He's a great shooter. One of the things he's been working on is using screens. The way teams guard him, he doesn't get a lot of space. If you're learning how to shoot, he's a great person to emulate.

"His story is unbelievable. To see him today, it looks like it never happened. It takes a lot of resiliency. It's something that should be celebrated almost on a daily basis, because he was very close to not being here at all. He's a great kid."

Because of a heavy academic workload, Devlin gave up on AAU basketball when he entered Phillips. He doesn't intend on playing basketball at the college level.

Instead, his focus is on doing what he can to help patients like himself.

Devlin is very interested in stem cell research. According to Rich, Devlin was asked by Dr. Leonard Zon, the founder and director of the Stem Cell Program at Boston Children's Hospital, to work on a project that attracts kids to stem cell research using zebrafish. Zon explained how Harvard had the only undergraduate program in the nation with both curriculum and research opportunities in SCRB.

Greg responded positively, and launched iDigitizEd, which is a collaboration with Zon and zebrafish research lab director Chris Lawrence of Children's Hospital. The goal is to expose middle school and high school kids to interesting experiments using zebrafish with an opportunity to connect to professionals who can help them learn more about career opportunities.

"To be given a second shot at life, it has obviously carried over into everything I do," said Devlin. "I was influenced by my experiences. Witnessing all of that stuff first-hand and seeing all of these kids sick on the same ward I was on was very moving and really influenced my decision."

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