SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Win or lose, Seton Hall’s Derrick Gordon will make history Thursday.
The senior guard will become the first openly gay player to compete in the NCAA Tournament.
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Gordon, who transferred to Seton Hall before this season, came out as gay in interviews in 2014 while he was playing for Massachusetts. He became the first openly gay player in Division I college basketball.
“I want to be myself,” Gordon said in an interview with ESPN at the time. “I don’t want to hide and be someone I’m not.”
The former standout at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, has declined interviews this season that highlight his sexual orientation.
Sixth-seeded Seton Hall will face 11th-seeded Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament at 9:57 p.m. Thursday in Denver.
Pirates coach Kevin Willard said there hasn’t been as much focus on Gordon’s sexuality this season as one might expect.
“I think it was a story when it first happened. But now in today’s society, it’s great,” Willard told WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Tuesday. “Derrick came in and he was so easily accepted that it’s been such a pleasure to have him on our team. He’s our leader of our lockeroom. He’s the leader off the court and on the court. So I think the focus this year for Derrick has been his great basketball ability, what he brings to us on the defensive end, what a great leader he is and what a great person he is.”
Unhappy with his role at UMass, Gordon began to look for a new team after last season. But some were not as welcoming as Seton Hall, he said in May.
“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.”
This season, Gordon averages 7.9 points per game for the Pirates (25-8), who beat two top-five teams — Xavier and Villanova — en route to winning the Big East tournament last week.