The Charlotte Hornets waited about a year after the pandemic started before they were allowed to have any fans back at Spectrum Center. Their NBA G League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, has had to wait even longer – about 20 months in total. On Friday evening, The Fieldhouse lights will finally be shining bright for a sellout crowd ready to kick off the organization’s 5th Anniversary season against the visiting Birmingham Squadron.
“Surreal, nervous, anxious,” says Steve Swetoha, President of the Greensboro Swarm, when asked about his feelings leading up to the long-awaited day. “We hosted an open practice this past Saturday and had a little over 300 people show up. It was really good to have basketball back in The Fieldhouse with fans actually in attendance. It gave our staff an opportunity to reengage with the in-game experience and the many things we have to do to put our show on.”
Greensboro is coming off an abbreviated month-long 2020-21 G League season, which took place entirely at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Bay Lake, FL this past February and March. While the squad mustered just a 5-10 record, Hornets forward Jalen McDaniels (20.0 PPG and 11.5 RPG in 2 GP) and centers Nick Richards (17.0 PPG, 10.3 RPG and 3.0 BPG in 9 GP) and Vernon Carey Jr. (16.0 PPG and 9.4 RPG in 14 GP) all got valuable developmental reps.
Former Hornets Head Video Coordinator Jordan Surenkamp was recently named the third full-time Head Coach in franchise history. Surenkamp, a former Division II standout at Wabash College (IN), holds prior G League experience working for the Long Island Nets during the 2017-18 season before he headed down to Charlotte.
“The biggest thing is to lay the foundation and culture here the same way that we have in Charlotte,” Surenkamp says. “I think the development piece, the success on the floor, the success off the floor, the development off the floor, all those things come from the foundation of building a good culture. I’m looking forward to getting going and hitting the ground running.”
Greensboro’s G League roster is headlined by a pair of rookies in guard Scottie Lewis and forward Arnoldas Kulboka, both of whom are under two-way contracts. Lewis is a former top-10 high school recruit originally from the Bronx who spent two years at the University of Florida, while Kulboka spent last season with Bilbao Basket in Spain’s Liga ACB.
“I think everybody is excited to finally start playing the first official game,” says Kulboka, a native of Lithuania. “Everybody is working hard and we’re all ready. I think the people out here and the fans are also excited that basketball is finally back here. Especially for me, I’m super excited because in Europe, there was a big lockdown for basically two seasons. So, we had no fans, no nothing. To have the fans in the arena, I’m just excited to see it.”
Other players of note include returning forward Xavier Sneed out of Kansas State, rookie guards DJ Carton (Marquette) and Jalen Crutcher (Dayton), former Oklahoma State forward Cameron McGriff (who spent last season playing in Belgium) and Hornets Summer League forward standout LiAngelo Ball, the 14th overall pick in last month’s G League Draft.
Two members of the Hornets’ 15-man roster, Carey and rookie forward JT Thor were recently assigned to the Swarm earlier this week. The G League is used primarily by NBA teams as a developmental resource for younger players, but sometimes, there’s a challenge between making sure players are getting the proper reps versus also achieving on-court success.
“Certainly, winning is really important, but Jordan’s made a great point. It’s really important we see development going up and coming here,” explains Swetoha. “I think players having competitive high energy on and off the court is really important. Ultimately, we can’t control wins and losses, but our coaching staff is really focused in on developing players we currently have on our roster.”
Greensboro’s first 14 games will be part of the Showcase Cup, an early-season tournament where the G League’s 30 teams are divided into four regional pods. Whoever finishes with the top winning percentage in each pod after the first 12 games plus the next four best teams will advance to a single-elimination tournament in Las Vegas with the remaining teams playing an additional two consolation contests at the Winter Showcase.
After that, everybody starts from scratch when the 36-game regular season schedule begins on Dec. 27. The top six teams in each conference will advance to the G League Playoffs, with two teams – NBA G League Ignite and Capitanes de la Ciudad de México – only participating in the Showcase Cup.
Says Kulboka, “I think we have a good enough team to make it to the playoffs. Basically, we want to win as many games as possible and prove we can stay at the same spot the whole year. It helps for sure that I know the staff that is working out here. I know Jordan for many years already. Pretty much we have the same plays like the Hornets. Having training camp with the Hornets before coming here helps a lot for sure.”
Located within the Greensboro Sports Complex, The Fieldhouse seats over 2,100 fans, providing attendees with one of the more unique environments in the entire G League. “It’s a really intimate facility,” describes Swetoha. “Fans are really close to the action. When this place is full and gets rocking, it’s truly a home-court advantage. We do a lot of creative promotional in-game activations and try to make our entire fanbase part of the in-game experience.”
With such an extended period of time transpiring between hosting games in Greensboro, a lot of the focus this season for the Swarm is reconnecting with fans and the local community. It’s certainly not an easy task with COVID-19-related restrictions currently part of the new societal norm, says Swetoha.
“It is a huge challenge for us. It’s ever-changing here. That’s why we’re trying to build some continuity in with people, opportunities with choosing our new mascot’s name and Jordan coming here. We try and utilize the tie-ins with fans that may have affiliations with the ACC schools or players. With Health and Safety challenges, we might not be able to do some of the things we’ve done in the past like player autographs or appearances. We have to be creative in finding ways to connect our partners and fans to our players.”
Opening Night has been a long time coming for the Swarm and its basketball-loving fanbase in the Greensboro community. Now with a new Head Coach, an almost entirely new group of players and fans finally packing The Fieldhouse, one couldn’t ask for a more exciting way to start the organization’s 5th Anniversary season