The mention of Derrick Gordon almost brought Kevin Willard to tears earlier this week.
Seton Hall had just wrapped up a win over Providence when a reporter asked the head coach to reflect on Gordon’s lone year in South Orange.
“I can’t say enough good things about DG,” Willard said Thursday night. “He is such a pleasure to be around. He is such a good person. He is such a good teammate. He’s unselfish. He sacrificed his role this year a bit for the betterment of the team. I’ve been very blessed to have been able to coach him and we’ve all been very blessed to have him as a teammate.”
On Sunday the player and coach embraced at mid-court prior to the Hall’s game with No. 5 Xavier. The Pirates’ only honoree on Senior Day, Gordon received a framed jersey, a mobbing courtesy of his teammates and a roaring ovation from a sellout crowd of 10,353 people at the Prudential Center.
“Priceless,” Gordon said when asked to describe Sunday. “This is a day I’ll remember for a while.”
“It was so beautiful,” Gordon’s mother, Sandra, said. “I’m so proud of him.”
Gordon may have only spent a year at Seton Hall, but his impact on the Pirates was not limited by time. Serving as the team’s sixth-man and most tenacious defender, he leaves Sunday’s 90-81 upset over the Musketeers averaging eight points, 3.4 rebounds and one steal a game over the course of 24.2 minutes.
Statistics aside, Gordon stepped up as the leader of a squad littered with youth. He fires up his teammates when he comes off the bench, mentors the Hall’s younger players and even called a team meeting back when SHU was on a two-game losing streak. Gordon’s intangibles have meant just as much as his on-court production.
“He shows everybody how to be composed. He’s a great leader,” Desi Rodriguez said of Gordon. “He’s just a great person.”
Calm and collected away from the court, Gordon said he had to adjust to being a vocal leader this year.
“I’m usually quiet,” he said. “Me being a senior, I had to talk. I had to lead this team and that’s what Coach Willard wanted me to do.”
Gordon has been welcomed as a role model by his comrades this year, but he was worried about being welcomed – at all – when he decided to transfer from the University of Massachusetts.
The first openly gay player in college basketball history, Gordon was in search of a program where he would be accepted. He found just that at Seton Hall.
“This is one of the best teams I’ve really seen (in terms of) so much support with Derrick compared to the other schools,” Sandra said. “The guys are wonderful. I love them. I see that Derrick has shown them lots of love and they’re showing it to him.”
Gordon also made it a priority to pick a school close to home. A Plainfield, N.J. native, the Hall’s glue guy always has family in attendance at The Rock.
“It’s been a blessing,” Gordon said of his family’s support. “This being my last year of college basketball; being able to see them at every one of my home games – especially this game – it means a lot to me.”
“He motivates me to stay focused,” Gordon’s twin brother, Darryl – who served more than five years in prison – said of being able to watch him play. “I know that there’s always a second chance.”
Now, with two regular season games left, Gordon is poised to become the first player in history to go to three NCAA Tournaments with three different schools. Having already been to the Big Dance with Western Kentucky and UMass, he cannot wait for the madness to begin.
“We still got a lot of work to do and a lot of things we want to accomplish down the road,” Gordon said.
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.