NEW YORK — 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.”