The holistic change college basketball needed started with a flash from Derrick Gordon

Streeter Lecka

The UMass guard has felt love and support throughout college basketball since coming out.

Three weeks ago, the University of Massachusetts showed the world that they could accept a change that had been discussed in anonymity for decades.

Derrick "Flash" Gordon announced to the world that he was homosexual, an open decision that had never been seen in the world of college basketball from an active player. As the Westboro Baptist Church responded with an angry protest, UMass students gathered on campus to show support for the 6'3 guard.

They donned eccentric tie-die shirts and shiny button-sized pins, and held signs that bore a message Gordon could take comfort in.

"UMass United", the signs read. "Love Conquers Hate" read tweets from underclassmen. And in the middle of the crowd, UMass' a capella group, Wicked Pitch, began singing Macklemore's hit song "Same Love."

The Minutemen stood in support of Gordon, their starting guard and college basketball's new symbol of hope:

The rest of the country understood the message thoroughly. The culture surrounding college basketball has been inching towards change for decades. That change is tangible now, and not just at UMass.

"[Players like Gordon] would be received with open arms," said coach Carmen Maciariello, an assistant coach at Boston University, who spoke exclusively to SB Nation.

"We are family, we have each other's backs through the good and the bad and that is accredit to coach (Joe) Jones. You would hope through the recruiting process and as the relationship between player and coach develops that it transcends to something where every player would be able to talk with at least someone on the staff to confide in and ask for advice and or support. I believe that is how championship programs are built, through open communication and trust."

Derrick Gordon

Maciariello, who spent three seasons as an assistant at Fairfield and spent time with Ed Cooley and the Providence Friars, has been around college basketball for more than a decade. He was Fran McCaffery's director of basketball relations at Siena in 2005-06 and the lead recruiter for Fairfield for three years. Off the court he works one-on-one with special needs children.

He said that he understands what goes through a player's head when they feel like they can't talk to their teammates but he understands that it comes down to the coach's philosophy. All coaches haven't been the best in handling their student-athletes needs in recent years.

Bob Knight was accused of choking Neil Reed at practice in 1997, Bernie Fine was fired from Syracuse after child molestation allegations and more recently, Mike Rice was throwing basketballs at his players at Rutgers. These situations don't make it easier for players to be open about their internal struggles or their family life.

It's not always simple to produce a "family atmosphere" in a college basketball locker room, but Miles Overton, a freshman guard at Wake Forest, a 2013 McDonald's All-American Nominee and the son of former LaSalle basketball legend Doug Overton praised his "small community" where "everybody is so personable."

"No matter who they are into off the court, they are always your teammate," Overton told SB Nation. "So you shouldn't treat them any different."

"No matter who they are into off the court, they are always your teammate. So you shouldn't treat them any different." -Miles Overton, Fr. SG, Wake Forest University

Overton also said that Gordon's openness would shape college basketball's recruiting process.

"It allows people to be more comfortable and for recruits, comfort is key to picking a university," Overton said. "At Wake Forest there was really no reaction, we just were like ‘wow,  that's what's up for him.' I've watched [Gordon] play in high school because St. Patrick's is such a dominant high school in our area...No matter who they are in to off the court, they are always your teammate. So you shouldn't treat them any different."

Gordon openly discussing his sexuality is an example of how sports is helping change societal norms. Gordon's candidness made it easier for Overton to tell his coaches about an AAU coach of his that recently past away. It's the small changes that have trickled down from a magnanimous one.

These small differences between players didn't stop Jay Wright, Villanova's head basketball coach, from recruiting Will Sheridan. Sheridan told ESPN that he was gay after four seasons with the Wildcats, but his teammates knew and still supported him. The differences were small, but not large enough to separate a Division I basketball program.

For Gordon, the next challenge will be dealing with the spotlight that follows. Jason Collins did it this season with the Brooklyn Nets. Missouri linebacker Michael Sam felt it days before the NFL draft combine.

"I think hopefully as social awareness grows, people's sexual orientation should not matter at all," Maciariello said. "We are all people who bleed the same."

"I think hopefully as social awareness grows, people's sexual orientation should not matter at all. We are all people who bleed the same. -Coach Carmen Maciariello, Boston University

The real question in the upcoming months will be how Gordon and others can find acceptance at their schools in their locker room.

"Do I think they can? Yes, but that's easy to say," Coach Maciariello said. "I think hopefully as social awareness grows, people's sexual orientation should not matter at all. We are all people who bleed the same. You would hope people see a person for who they are and not their sexual orientation. I guess I may be being too idealistic because not all people are accepting of people's sexual orientation or preference.

"That is a person's private life and they should not be judged," Coach Maciariello continued. "But as we know we are constantly being judged. In the locker room, though, if you do not have strong leaders or captains to put people in line if they make a comment, that is uneducated or off color, to speak up and say that is unacceptable, then that may not be the best locker room for openness. That however takes courage and could be the reason why some athletes do not come out."

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