UMass coach Derek Kellogg said his team immediately voiced their support for Derrick Gordon
after he told them he was gay. (Jim Owens/Icon SMI)
On Wednesday morning, Derrick Gordon became the first openly gay men's basketball player in Division I. On Wednesday afternoon, the sophomore guard was to share his story again during a news conference at UMass' Mullins Center. And right about when Gordon started, his coach peeked into the room.
“And honestly, there was more media than I'd seen in a long time – actually, ever,” Minutemen coach Derek Kellogg said. “We went to the [NCAA] tournament this year and we won a lot of big games. I guess the magnitude of it hit me pretty quickly, that this is a big deal in the world.”
Kellogg, who just finished his sixth season at UMass, spoke with SI.com about how Gordon broke the news to him, how Gordon delivered it to his teammates and where the player and program take it from here.
SI.com: How did Derrick tell you?
Kellogg: I set up a meeting with him that he texted me and said he couldn't make. He said he was going home for the weekend and had some big news to talk to his parents about. He was a little nervous about doing it. I said, well, I'm here for you, just let me know what it is and we can talk about it. You can tell me anything or ask for advice or whatever it might be.
Sunday night I got a call, later in the evening. I asked him how the meeting went; he said it went good, and he started kind of rambling to a certain extent. I finally said, just tell me. What's going on? He said, 'Coach, I'm gay.' I said, 'Oh. Well, I'm here for you, we have your back here. You and I are here together and I know your teammates feel the same way.' We talked for a little while really just about supporting him.
Then we kind of went into the timeline of we have to let your team know, that's a big thing. He voiced to me that he wanted to go public. I said, 'This is your timeline, this is your deal, we're here to support you.' He ended up telling the team last Wednesday.
SI.com: How did the team meeting go?
Kellogg: D.G. seemed kind of nervous on the way down to the meeting. I made sure all my coaches and players were already there, and we kind of came in about five or 10 minutes after all the players were there. I've got a pretty good relationship with my team, I'm a jokester at times, so I figured I might try to break the ice for Derrick. So I told the guys, 'Hey, listen, I want to share something with you guys. We're all a family, we're all a brotherhood, we're in this together -- and I'm gay.' They laughed a little bit. I don't know if they totally bought my introduction. But it broke the ice for Derrick.
I said, no, actually, Derrick has something to tell you, and he said, 'I'm gay.' They said, 'OK, we get it, we know.' The reaction of the team was great. My strength coach, Rich Hogan, stepped up first and just said, D.G., we love you, this doesn't change anything. Then actually the team stepped up and said, really to a man, one by one, that they kind of had known for a while. They're like, D.G., we've been here for you the whole time, we've known for like eight months, a year, whatever it might be. This doesn't change anything. You're a brother, a family member.
The reception of the guys -- they weren't surprised. They were happy he was sharing it with them so they can now talk about it. They voiced to him that they felt he was pulling away from the team and not the other way around. He felt he was kind of the one that was figuring out how to be, how to act, and the other guys on the team were like, we want you to be with us.
SI.com: Did you anticipate anything different?
Kellogg: No, not with this group. One reason is, like I said, I think they already knew. And I kind of sensed that but I didn't really know for certain myself. His personal life wasn't my business until he wanted to make it my business, you know? But I knew the guys were accepting of him. That wasn't going to be an issue. I think he picked the right team at the right time. He got the right guys around him.
SI.com: What are your immediate concerns as a coach in the near-term, and then for Derrick down the line?
Kellogg: The immediate concern is I wanted to make sure we continue to support him. But at some point this will be about our team and making sure we continue to do stuff at the same level and nothing changes. I want it to go back to normalcy as quick as possible. And then we'll have to talk again once the season approaches, as the media frenzy of the season comes about. And making sure we deal with any behavior on the road, making sure we deal with it the UMass way and appropriately.
I want to make sure in recruiting that people realize that the coaching staff and the UMass players are here for [Gordon]. We're a group that sticks together and continues to stick up for the players, and that we're a family. That'll be something people can look at and say, 'Wow, that group really sticks together and does things the right way.'
SI.com: And he's probably going to be a pretty important player for you, too, right?
Kellogg: He claims he's going to play better, so I'm going to hold him to that. He claims he can fly now. He wasn't flying so much this past year. He was a little bit below the rim. I'm anticipating him being above the rim and having a breakout season for us. Because I do think that he feels a lot more confident about himself on and off the floor, and he does look like he's bouncing a little more when you see him walk and move. Which, at times last year, was up and down.
SI.com: Do you want him to embrace a role as a sort of spokesman or voice for gay players?
That's going to be up to him. But I don't want it to affect what we're doing here and what he's trying to do as a basketball player and a college athlete. If it becomes too much or burdensome to a certain extent -- he's a student-athlete. He's here to get an education, to help us get to the NCAA tournament and hopefully advance and maybe get to the Final Four. He's saying all the right things as far as that's really what he wants to do. He kind of wants to get his message out, which he's done, and go back to being a regular student athlete. The guys on the team would appreciate that, if we all get back to some sort of normalcy here in the next two or three days.