NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Derrick Gordon is coming home — and just in the nick of time it seems.
Gordon, the first openly gay player in Division I and former standout at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, is transferring from UMass to Seton Hall, he announced Sunday.
The 6-foot-3 swingman’s arrival should help to fill the hole left by leading scorer Sterling Gibbs’ transfer to UConn.
“I’m walking into a great situation,” Gordon told USA TODAY Sports. “This gives me a chance to showcase what I can really do in one of the best conferences (the Big East) in the country, in the national spotlight.”
Gordon, whose college career started at Western Kentucky before a three-year run UMass, has one season of eligibility left and will be able to play immediately as a graduate transfer, the newspaper reported. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 rebounds last season for UMass, which went 17-15 and missed the NCAA tournament.
He’ll join sophomores Isaiah Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington in the Pirates’ new look backcourt.
Gordon made national headlines back in the spring of 2014 when he came out, following the example of former NBA player Jason Collins. He said he enjoyed his experience at UMass, adding he received a lot of support from the program and fans, but ultimately chose to transfer to Seton Hall for purely basketball-related reasons.
“I wasn’t happy with my role there,” Gordon said. “It really had nothing to do with my sexuality or anything like that. Everything was great at UMass. There were no issues. We showered together and I don’t look at my teammates like that. … At the beginning were they uncomfortable? Yeah. But they were real with me, expressed concern and we dealt with it. That made us better friends, better teammates.”
He announced his intention to transfer in March, but said he was disappointed in the process, adding his sexuality became an issue as he spoke to other schools.
“During the recruiting process, a number of schools didn’t want me because I’m gay,” Gordon said. “To me, that’s blatant homophobia. At the end of the day, no coaches will ever admit that they don’t want me because I’m gay and there’s baggage that comes with the attention.
“Honestly, it caught me off-guard. It really hurt. It had me stressing, crying. I was starting to lose hope. I felt like I was being treated like an outsider, like I didn’t belong in the NCAA. I couldn’t believe it because I’m a good player and they were looking at the opposite — something that doesn’t mean anything with my (sexuality). … ‘Nah, not the gay guy.'”
But now Gordon is going to a place that’s familiar, where he has a ton of support — and that’s just fine with him.
“I expect it to be a smooth transition, honestly,” Gordon said. “Coach (Kevin Willard) has already talked to the players and they said, ‘as long as he helps us win, we’re gonna be his brother.’ It’s about what I can do for the team. …Obviously, me being on the team will be a new experience for everyone involved. This is another new chapter for me.”
Seton Hall finished the 2014-15 season 16-15, including a 6-12 mark in the Big East.