RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became a better basketball player and a better teammate this season, and he credits both to having the courage to play as an openly gay man.
Gordon’s first season since coming out likely ended Thursday in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament at Barclays Center.
The junior guard scored seven points and had five rebounds as the Minutemen (17-15), who are still holding out slim hopes for an NIT bid, lost 76-69 to La Salle.
Gordon became the first openly gay player in men’s Division I college basketball when he came out last year, and it changed his life for the better in every way. He said he was unburdened on and off the court.
“All last season, that was something I was always thinking about,” Gordon told The Associated Press. “It was always in the back of my mind. This year, everybody knows. So everywhere we went I didn’t have to worry about it. It was like what you see is what you get. I am who I am.
“It just made me forget about that and just concentrate on my game.”
The numbers show Gordon was about the same player he was last season. He averaged a tick above nine points per game again. His shooting percentage dropped, but his assists and rebounding improved.
The most noticeable difference came away from the game.
“I opened up a lot, because I’m very quiet,” Gordon said. “I opened up a lot to my teammates and hung around with my teammates more. It was all about building the team chemistry.”
Coach Derek Kellogg said he could see a difference.
“He really became more open with his teammates and spent a lot more time associating himself with the guys,” Kellogg said. “I think it was one of those things that it just felt great that he was accepted for who he is. I thought he enjoyed his time with his teammates more. It was just nice to see a smile on his face.”
Gordon’s public announcement made news and his first game this season drew extra attention. Then the story drifted into the background.
“It was a huge story and I think it shows how far our country and people around it have come,” Kellogg said. “It was actually refreshing that it wasn’t a huge story when we went on the road. People were very accommodating and treated him the way he was supposed to be treated. And I think he appreciated that.”
Gordon said not once this season did he hear any heckling from fans about his sexuality.
“We played against St. Bonaventure and the St. Bonaventure crowd can be ridiculous,” he said. “They didn’t say nothing at all. It was all positive.”
Gordon said he noticed a tweet from the students who lead the St. Bonaventure student section that encouraged and reminded fans before the game to treat Gordon with respect.
“To see something like that was, man, my hats go off to them for the way they handled the whole situation,” Gordon said. “… Anywhere we went, everything was positive. I didn’t hear anything negative. No one came up to me.”
Gordon is leading a life that is not quite that of the typical 23-year-old college kid. His offseason schedule includes being an ambassador at the Miami Gay Pride parade in April. He also will be giving a speech at an awards ceremony in Boston for Jason Collins, the former professional basketball player who became the first openly gay man to play in the NBA.
“I’m going to do a speech about how he changed my life,” Gordon said. “Kind of suit-and-tie thing. Time to break out the suspenders. It’s going to be a very interesting next couple months. Fun.”
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