APTOS -- Whether they didn't know or didn't care, the fans who attended Wednesday night's Cabrillo College women's basketball game against Mission provided no reaction when Gabrielle Ludwig entered with 11:17 remaining in the first half.

The Mission College center checked in as any other opposing player might, played the game as any other opposing player would, and was greeted by Cabrillo fans and others in attendance the same way they would greet any other player.

There was no heckling. There was no stirring.

And Ludwig, a transgender player who has been highlighted in seemingly hundreds of articles and stories since December, by such publications as the USA Today and the Associated Press, was very appreciative of that response.

"I was told it was going to be a hostile crowd," said Ludwig, 51, following Wednesday's game, an 84-46 victory over Cabrillo that improved Mission to 6-0 in the Coast Conference South. "But this was by far the most respectful gymnasium."

Ludwig has received plenty of attention in the last couple of months -- both positive and negative -- as she is believed to be the first transsexual to play college basketball as both a man and a woman.

But on Wednesday night in Aptos -- if not for her 6-foot-5 frame or the camera crew from HBO Sports that was in attendance filming a segment on her -- you might not have known the difference between Ludwig and any other player on the court.

For her, playing on the road isn't usually that easy.

Ludwig, a Navy veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, said she's checked into games on the road and heard the officials at the scorer's table refer to her as "he." Opposing benches have yelled, "Pass him the ball," or, "Get your brother off the court." Opposing fans have felt she might be too physical with other players.

"But here, it was very respectful. I was pleasantly surprised," said Ludwig, who was told by coaches and friends prior to the game the crowd would be antagonistic.

"Quite the contrary," Ludwig added. "The folks here in Santa Cruz were amazing. And personally, I would like to thank them for not being judgemental and just letting me play basketball, and seeing me as a basketball player."

Ludwig was able to share her thoughts during an interview earlier in the day with Bryant Gumbel, host of Real Sports on HBO. The segment, coupled with footage taken from Wednesday's game at the Cabrillo gym, is expected to air in either February or March.

Ludwig said she initially didn't want any publicity. But she was convinced by her coaches and others to share her story.

"Between her job, her classes, and all the national hoopla, and then to play on a basketball team," Cabrillo coach Kristy Netto said, "it's impressive.

"And her teammates are there for her, which is really cool, really cool."

It admittedly hasn't been easy for Ludwig, though.

In late November she received a new birth certificate, the final hurdle she had to clear toward playing women's basketball for the Santa Clara college. Having lived as a woman and taken female hormones since 2007, according to the AP report, Ludwig had her sex-change operation in July.

Born Robert John Ludwig, she played one season at Nassau Community College in the early 1980s. She didn't formally play again until she joined Mission, where she takes 12 credits in an effort to better her career as a systems engineer with a Bay Area pharmaceutical company.

But the opinions from fans and others has been wide-ranging. Even the articles written in the past, she feels, have sometimes portrayed her as a "freak show."

"They look at things that are the more extreme on the masculine side and just kind of drill that home, kind of make me a freak show," she said. "And you know what? I'm not. There's a whole lot of layers to Gabrielle Ludwig.

"I'm the chapter director for a nonprofit youth basketball program. I have three kids. I have a career that I've been with for 16 years. And for people to just arbitrarily tear my life apart just because I'm a transsexual and just because I decided to go back to college and bolster my education to better my career, they think it's an open invitation to criticize, and I just don't get it."

That wasn't the case Wednesday. Interestingly, Cabrillo decided to bring in security guards for the game -- but only upon hearing Mission's fans can be hostile.

It wasn't the case for either side.

Netto said she was impressed by Ludwig, who played limited minutes against Cabrillo and finished with five points.

"I'm impressed that she can get up and down the court at 50, because I can't get up and down anymore," laughed Netto, 43. "There's no way I'm getting up and down the court."

Ludwig said she joined the Saints initially because she has a love for basketball, and wanted to act as a role model for the teams she coaches. She can still jump, still rebound, still post up on the low block, and she's not trying to hurt anybody.

She's also trying to champion a cause. For the LGBT community, she said she'll be the "whipping post" if it helps someone who might be struggling with gender or identity to feel more accepted.

"I'll display the best sportsmanship I can out there. I think it's important that I lay down good groundwork for everybody to see that, just because this person is a transsexual person doesn't make them a monster, it just makes them another human being," Ludwig said. "We have the same hurts and likes and we just want to be treated like everybody else. And I'll treat everybody else with respect as long as they deserve it." ------ (c)2013 Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com