North Carolina Swarming with Talent

Apr 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; A view of "Enter The Swarm" t-shirts of the Charlotte Hornets before game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; A view of "Enter The Swarm" t-shirts of the Charlotte Hornets before game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

With the addition of the Greensboro Swarm in the NBA D-League this season, it now means that North Carolina will be swarming with even more talent.

North Carolina has always been declared a “Hoop State”. Towns all over the region are known for cranking out the best basketball talent; the storied rivalries of Carolina, Duke and NC State are a part of the culture, a culture known for producing gems in a region where football remains supreme.

This season, the city of Greensboro won’t be hosting the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament, an event that has become a mainstay in the city. However, the city is now the home to the Greensboro Swarm, an expansion franchise in the ever-growing NBA Development League. On December 29, 2015, the Charlotte Hornets announced that their new affiliate would play in Greensboro. The team hired Denver Nuggets assistant coach Noel Gillepsie to lead the team this summer, and plans for a new arena were put together.

The Hornets had been in talks regarding establishing a D-League affiliate as early as 2014; previously, the team was affiliated with the Sioux Falls Skyforce and the Maine Red Claws. Having a team an hour away will be to the Hornets’ advantage, as players who are called up or down won’t have to travel across the country.

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The Road Less Travelled

Some people don’t care about the D-League, but the truth is, numerous players got their start there. How many times have fans heard the tales of Jeremy Lin‘s days in the NBDL or Shaun Livingston‘s journey as he recovered from injury? How many times have we heard about Reggie Jackson or Hassan Whiteside grinding in the D-League? The truth is, the Development League is key to the NBA. People forget that only 60 players get selected during the draft in June; that doesn’t mean that there are only 60 quality players available.

Also, Hornets fans should remember the story of guard P.J. Hairston. Hairston, a former standout at UNC, ran into legal trouble and did not finish the 2013-14 season. Instead, he spent the year in the D-League playing with the Texas Legends. Months later, he was drafted by the Miami Heat, had his rights traded to Charlotte, and made the Hornets roster as a 3-and-D player.

Let’s also not forget about former Charlotte guard Jorge Gutierrez. Gutierrez was signed from the D-League’s Canton Charge this past season after the All-Star break and logged minutes at the end of blowouts. However, he also got meaningful playoff experience in the series against Miami and inked a contract with the Brooklyn Nets this summer.

Charlotte also has another D-League connection through analyst Stephanie Ready. Ready, who has been played the role of sideline reporter and host of HORNETS Live!, was an assistant coach for the now defunt Greenville Groove. The Groove won the D-League championship in 2001-02, their first year of existence.

New Squad, New Faces

Oftentimes, the Development League is a chance for players to prove themselves for whatever reason. Fans can also keep up with some of their favorite college players who may not get the League right away.

On August 24, 2016, the Swarm participated in the D-League Draft, and they acquired the rights of 12 non-protected players. Some guys to keep an eye out for include former Tennessee standout Scotty Hopson, Syracuse’s Kris Joseph, and former NC State standout Ralston Turner.

Also, the Hornets have a lot of players who may or may not make the roster after training camp; these players may end up playing for the Greensboro squad. Some of the notable players include Kansas’ Perry Ellis, former Maryland and Duke standout Rasheed Sulaimon, Virginia’s Mike Tobey, VCU’s Treveon Graham, UNLV’s Christian Wood, and of course, former Kentucky star Aaron Harrison.

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Harrison and Wood are the only two with NBA experience; however, Harrison’s struggles were well-documented last year. He spent time with the D-League’s Oklahoma City Blue, and after a tumultuous Summer League performance, Harrison might find himself in Greensboro as well. Hornets head coach Steve Clifford said before the summer that Harrison might be a player who spends time with the Hornets during practice, then travels to Greensboro to get game experience.

Most coaches in the D-League run the same sets that their parent club run, so that players who are called up are familiar with offensive and defensive schemes. Greensboro will be no different.

In short, many former college standouts may very well be wearing a Swarm uniform in a few months. Also, on August 31, the team announced that there would be an open tryout on October 2 for those who wanted to play for the Swarm. Only five players can be kept from the tryout and invited to the Swarm training camp (per D-League rules), but there’s no telling who might make a name for themselves on that day.

Next: Could P.J. Hairston Go From Hornets' Starter to Out of the NBA?

Overall, there should be many reasons for optimism this season. Not only are the Hornets preparing for another successful year, but now their affiliate down the road will have a chance to strut their stuff as well. Injuries are commonplace in sports, and there’s no telling who will go down and who will be called upon to make plays. The next big thing could be grinding in Greensboro as we speak.