On the one hand, the Greensboro Swarm should have come around a lot sooner than 2016. North Carolina is a state packed to the brim with basketball heritage, filled with devoted fans and producing some of the greatest stars of the game.
With high profile minor league teams for baseball, hockey, and soccer already seeing success, it seems a no-brainer to have an NBA D-League team suit up on Tobacco Road. With the state’s largest population centers only a few hours apart, planting a team midway between Raleigh and Charlotte was a no-brainer move that seemingly could have happened a decade ago.
The other side of the coin is that as devoted as North Carolina basketball fans are, they already have a wealth of options to watch and support. Duke, North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest - these are some of the biggest names in college basketball, and they have seen some of the biggest stars come through the area.
Can a minor league basketball team capture the local consciousness and mine the affections of basketball fans in the area? Or will they be fighting an uphill battle to turn attention their way? Is there room for one more team to passionately love?
Those are questions that will be answered in the coming months as the Greensboro Swarm kick off their inaugural season. Opening Night is this Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum, and tickets are sold out for what should be a crazy atmosphere.
What should fans of both the Swarm and the Hornets expect from this team in its first year? What is the vision for the organization, and how will the players fit into that vision? And why should NBA fans care?
How We Got Here
Since the formation of a D-League affiliate in North Carolina was announced almost 18 months ago, progress has occurred at an ever-increasing pace to get everything in line for Saturday night.
The first step was announcing the location for the team, as Greensboro was not the only site in consideration. Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Asheville, and Wilmington were all considered as possible sites for a team. Greensboro was chosen both for its location (only 90 minutes from Charlotte) and its facilities, which are some of the best in the state.
The team name came next, as the Hornets announced they were considering such options as the “Attack” and “Buzz”. They settled on the Greensboro Swarm, and soon after a logo and color scheme made its way into the public.
Coach Noah Gillespie was brought on to head up the Swarm for this season and beyond. A veteran scout and most recently an assistant coach with Mike Malone in Denver, Gillespie is passionate about his job and the area. When he heard about a D-League team starting in Greensboro, he reached out to the Hornets about the head coaching position. “This job jumped out to me,” he said at the Swarm’s Media Day recently, “the single affiliation, getting to work with the Hornets. It’s a family here.”
The players have come from a variety of routes, from an expansion draft in late August to open tryouts in September and the official D-League draft less than two weeks ago. The team’s early leaders come by way of the Hornets’ training camp, when Charlotte made their final roster cuts and optioned a trio of players down to Greensboro. Perry Ellis, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Mike Tobey were on the very cusp of the NBA, and will play for the Swarm while working to develop into players ready for the next level.
Training Camp officially began November 1st with a 16-man roster, and after two weeks of practices, those 16 have been narrowed down to an 11-man roster that will take the court Saturday night. A long time coming, professional basketball takes place this weekend in Greensboro, NC.
Goals For The Season
A direct affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets, the Greensboro Swarm exists primarily to benefit the Hornets franchise. First and foremost, their goal is to improve the profitability and on-court success of the Charlotte Hornets.
That goal can be reached in a number of ways, the first being player development. Coach Gillespie and his staff will be working to improve the skillsets of the players on their roster, teaching them in the same system coach Steve Clifford uses in Charlotte.
Even more so, Gillespie will seek to instill the same culture seen in Charlotte. This will give his players the best environment to grow, and the easiest transition to the Hornets if called upon. It will also allow players currently on the Hornets, such as Aaron Harrison or Christian Wood, to easily travel to Greensboro and play in games.
The players have goals as well that may be outside of Charlotte, whether that’s playing for more money overseas or getting their chance with an NBA team. Ralston Turner is a guard who played his college ball at nearby NC State University; when asked about his goals for the season he said his “goal is to get better in every aspect, to get better and then better my future.” Ultimately these players are here not to help Charlotte win games, but to increase their chances of reaching their dreams.
Of course, both the coaches and players have another goal in mind: to win basketball games. Coach Gillespie acknowledged the team wants to win, but said “not going to put a number on it as an expansion team.” Forward Rodney Williams was less shy, stating “a good season for me is .500 or above and playoffs.” Big man Mike Tobey said he wants to win every game.
Finally, the Swarm want to connect with the Greensboro community, both to generate excitement for the team and serve the people around them.
The North Carolina Connection
Basketball is a vital part of life in North Carolina, and the Swarm will seek to tap into that excitement and devotion. The trick will be doing it in a way that cultivates and grows that excitement, rather than simply diverting it from elsewhere.
The Greensboro Coliseum is a part of the area’s culture, host to innumerable sporting events, the most prominent being the ACC tournament. For some players, last Tuesday was their first time stepping foot in the building. For others, it was the site of some of their best memories.
Guard Prince Williams played in the Coliseum his sophomore year, a victory of UNC-Greesboro. “Definitely remembered that,” he said, “[I] always remember the wins.” Ralston Turner hit a late-game shot to beat to Syracuse Orange his final season with the WolfPack at the Coliseum. “When I got here … the first thing I thought about was the memories from this building, the ACC tournament.[The Syracuse game] was definitely the highlight. That shot I made down there, I’ll remember that one forever.”
Two of the team leaders, Rasheed Sulaimon and Mike Tobey, faced off in a memorable ACC title game in 2014, where Tobey’s Cavaliers got the better of Sulaimon’s Blue Devils. For Sulaimon, he knows the context he has entered. “ I’m very familiar with Greensboro, and I know how important basketball is to them, and I’m very excited to be here in Greensboro and play in front of them.”
The Swarm will seek to engage fans from all walks of life, from college fans along Tobacco Road to the passionate Hornets fans around the Triad. Geographically central to the heart of basketball in the state - and indeed the entire Southeast - the Swarm are well-placed to tap into something special.
All of the Swarm’s goals for the season - player development, winning games, and making a home in North Carolina - will begin Saturday night at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Fort Wayne Mad Ants will come in searching for a win, but there are a lot of talented players on the Swarm who want to start a new era off in the right way.