In The Lab: #FighterMentality

By Justin Trujillo | February 16, 2021

Moments after the Greensboro Swarm’s first victory at the single-site, 123-95 over the Long Island Nets (Brooklyn Nets affiliate), head coach Jay Hernandez entered the locker room to address his team. However instead of the head coach speaking first, guard Kobi Simmons stood up and said to the group:

One thing… fellas, that is how we respond. Way to come back. We took shootaround, we took it serious… we got a win. Game ball goes to coach! First win with the Swarm.

The room erupted in claps and cheers for coach Hernandez who led the team to a comfortable win against his hometown NBA G League team. As Simmons handed over the game ball to coach, which he held on to after the buzzer, I couldn’t help but think that this moment was an important one for the story of the 2021 Swarm. Let me explain.

Fighter Mentality
Coach Hernandez introduced the mantra of ‘Fighter Mentality’ on the first meeting on the first day with the team. Simply, as he has explained, it is everything that we collectively have been challenged with since the start of 2020.

“Everybody has had to deal with something,” Hernandez outlined. “Everyone on this team has had to fight to be at this point, to have this opportunity. Our big thing is that when you appreciate what you have, you’ll fight harder to keep it. A lot of players wish they could be in this bubble with us. If we appreciate the time, knowing some of it will be difficult, then that will help us endure and overcome. It will make us better.”

That motto was a consistent topic from our quarantine to today, another game day. Coach had guest speakers join the team on Zoom during our quarantine in Charlotte and Orlando. Those individuals included a sports psychologist (Jo Perry), former NBA player (Raja Bell), Muay Thai champion (Chris Romulo), current NFL player (Jordan Reed) and hip-hop artist (J. Cole). Everyone talked through their respective challenges and their mental ability to overcome. To be completely honest, it was fascinating.

We wear rubber wristbands with #FighterMentality printed on them, as a reminder of why we are here and what we want to accomplish. Coach has maintained that this approach is for everyone… the players, coaches, basketball operations, athletic trainer and even the public relations person.

So when Hernandez earned his first win and Simmons, along with the rest of the team, recognized they came back from an 0-2 start to the season to overcome a talented Nets team, it came full circle. The team has absorbed what coach has said. They enjoy playing with each other. They appreciate this moment.

I am really excited to see how the remaining games shakeout. Win or lose, using this time to better ourselves for the future will make us all better at what we do.

Mentorship
We have a lot of fan interest in the Charlotte Hornets second-round selection, Vernon Carey Jr.

So far the big man from Duke has put up some big numbers which has drawn a lot of social media attention. While we continue to monitor his play, I wanted to share some observations on what I have seen from another former second-round pick that will play an important role in Carey Jr.’s development.

One might guess that the best mentor for a big man would come from, well, another big man. However, it is the time during and after practice that 6-foot-3-inch guard Ray McCallum spends with Carey Jr. that intrigues me.

You see, McCallum was sensational at Detroit-Mercy in college where he played for his father. A second-round selection by the Sacramento Kings in 2013, his entry into the league found him on a roster with another talented big man, four-time NBA All-Star, DeMarcus Cousins.

I want to be careful in any player comparisons because that is not my point. I do want to point out that McCallum spent a lot of time learning and facilitating to a skilled player in the post. McCallum is like a coach on the floor (and in practice), so the time he spends with Carey Jr. is valuable. His insights into working with a ‘modern big’ could benefit a player with so much potential like Carey Jr.

I would argue that many of the best players on the best teams are well coached. Carey Jr., and the rest of the Swarm, have player development guru/coach Hernandez here with them. Specifically for Carey Jr., he also has McCallum. It is worth your time to watch his development during the single-site as he is under great tutelage.