This story has been corrected. Read below.
Derrick Gordon, a sophomore starter for the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team, stepped forward Wednesday as the first openly gay player in Division I men's college basketball, sharing his story with ESPN and Outsports.
The 22-year-old shooting guard came out to his family, coaches and teammates in just a few days at the beginning of April. That's when he also decided to publicly acknowledge his sexuality.
"I just didn't want to hide anymore, in any way," Gordon told ESPN. "I didn't want to have to lie or sneak. I've been waiting and watching for the last few months, wondering when a Division I player would come out, and finally I just said, 'Why not me?'"
Gordon took to Twitter on Wednesday after the news broke.
This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living...No more HIDING!!!...Just want to live... http://t.co/rR9KO8nGCu
- Derrick Gordon (@flash2gordon) April 9, 2014
Gordon, a native of Plainfield, N.J., said that a key moment for him came when the Brooklyn Nets signed veteran center Jason Collins to a 10-day contract in February. Collins, who publicly acknowledged his sexuality in April 2013, became the first openly gay player in NBA history when he took the court against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 23.
"That was so important to me, knowing that sexuality didn't matter, that the NBA was OK with it," Gordon said.
Collins tweeted his support for Gordon on Wednesday.
- Jason Collins (@jasoncollins34) April 9, 2014
A number of people in the UMass athletic administration worked closely with Gordon behind the scenes as he prepared to come out to his teammates.
"UMass is proud to have Derrick Gordon as a member of our athletic family and to honor his courage and openness as a gay student-athlete," athletic director John McCutcheon said in a written statement. "UMass is committed to creating a welcoming climate where every student-athlete, coach and staff member can be true to themselves as they pursue their athletic, academic and professional goals."
Gordon said he reached his decision to come out publicly in the days after the team's first-round loss to Tennessee in the NCAA tournament on March 21.
"I just had a lot of time to myself, thinking, and I didn't know what I was waiting for," said Gordon, who transferred to UMass after one season at Western Kentucky.
In his first season with UMass, the 6-foot-3 Gordon averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. He started all 33 of the Minutemen's games and had a season-high 22 points on Nov. 21 against Nebraska.
He played his high school basketball at St. Patrick High in Elizabeth, N.J., one of the best prep programs in the country, then went on to lead Western Kentucky in scoring as a freshman with 11.8 points per game. The team made the NCAA tournament, and Gordon was a third-team All-Sun Belt Conference player as a true freshman, but he decided to transfer so he could be closer to his family.
Gordon came out to his teammates on April 2, after telling UMass coach Derek Kellogg in a phone conversation three days earlier. Kellogg stood by Gordon's side in the team meeting.
"From speaking with Derrick, I realized the pressure he had, the weight that was on his shoulders," Kellogg said. "You can already see in his demeanor that he is so much happier. I actually think this is something that brings our team closer together and helps Derrick play more freely."
Sophomore forward Tyler Bergantino said that even before Gordon addressed his teammates, there was something different in his demeanor.
"He looked happier, stress-free, like that was the real him," Bergantino said. "Before, when he would walk into the locker room, there was this cloud around him, like you couldn't quite get to him."
About a year ago, Gordon reached out to Wade Davis, executive director of the You Can Play Project, a group that works to ensure respect and safety for all athletes without regard for sexual orientation. Davis connected Gordon to a network of allies behind the scenes, and Gordon told ESPN these connections have been instrumental for him.
"Over the past year, I've gotten to know Derrick Gordon," Davis said. "He's like a little brother to me. I've watched him grow into a confident young man who is ready to be a leader on and off the court. His fearless desire to be his authentic self and his personal story of triumph will inspire others and continue to expand consciousness."
According to Gordon, after he made his announcement, one of his teammates immediately spoke up and said, "We got you; you're one of us." Afterward, Gordon and four other members of the team ate dinner together.
"Before, I usually just kept to myself because I didn't want to lie or be fake," Gordon said. "But not anymore. I feel so good right now. It's like this huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders."
Michael Sam, an All-American defensive end at Missouri, came out in interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports in February after his college career ended. He is projected as a middle-round prospect in next month's NFL draft.
Sam tweeted congratulations to Gordon after the announcement.
- Michael Sam (@MikeSamFootball) April 9, 2014
The Associated Press contributed to this report.