When the 2021 NBA G League season tips off on February 10th at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida, hundreds of players of differing backgrounds will look to prove themselves in one way or another. Whether it’s vets like Jeremy Lin, Skal Labissiere, or Nik Stauskas wanting to show teams that they belong back on an NBA rotation, or members of the Ignite team wanting to boost their position in the minds of scouts, the 25-day regular season sprint will be an opportunity for athletes of various ages to prove themselves to the most powerful folks in basketball.
While players will capture the most attention, they’re not the only ones looking to prove themselves in this unique environment. Coaches of all seventeen teams, along with Brian Shaw of the G League Ignite, will be utilizing this opportunity in Disney World to grow at their craft in the hopes of following in the footsteps of Nick Nurse, Nate Bjorkgren, and Taylor Jenkins as real success stories in this league. One of those individuals is new Greensboro Swarm head coach Jay Hernandez, who was hired to take over the role on January 15th.
Recently, Dakota Schmidt of Ridiculous Upside had the opportunity to chat over Zoom with Mr. Hernandez on a variety of different topics which range from his relationship with Hornets head coach James Borrego, lessons he’s taking from his career as a player development coach, and thoughts on various members of the Swarm roster. Due to the length of the interview, we’ve broken things down into two parts.
Ridiculous Upside: After serving as an assistant coach for Orlando and Charlotte for the last few years, what were the factors that led you transitioning into the role as Greensboro’s new head coach?
Jay Hernandez: For me, it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a few years now. I figured that if I had the opportunity to coach in the G League, I would know how valuable that experience would be for me to learn, to grow, to sit in that seat, and be able to develop a full team after only working with two to four guys at a time. To have the whole team under the umbrella and help the Hornets from the ground-up was important for me.
So when this came up, something that JB (James Borrego) talked about was that I could still travel with the team, be part of the Hornets as an assistant, take these six weeks to work with the Swarm and be here in the bubble, get that experience, and then come right back for the second half of the season. It’s a dream come true for me to do both things and fill a want and a need at the same time.
Hopefully, it makes me better when I go back to the Hornets and to have some things that I can share with JB and the staff in terms of having what I saw that worked here while having some film to back it up.
RU: How has your player development work that you’ve done as a trainer with doing individual work and as an assistant coach with Orlando and Charlotte inform how you’re going to approach your current role with the Swarm?
JH: In my background of owning my own business for 10+ years in player development, I was accountable for it all. I was responsible for making sure the gym was paid for, that the lights were on, having the schedule for my trainers, and making sure that they were taken care of. You know, I did everything from my own web site to checking the emails and voice messages and also doing marketing. Running a non-profit as well pushed me to wear a lot of hats, and I think the G League is all about that with adapting and overcoming. Every single day, there are new challenges that happen, and I think that the more confident you are in your abilities to multi-task and empower your staff, the better you’re going to be.
We have a great staff here. To have Norman Richardson come and be a part of this group after his years with the Mad Ants and Erie and our experience playing college basketball together, we’re not afraid to tell each other the truth, we care for each other, and that’s the biggest thing. Defensively, he’s one of the best minds in the game, so having him by my side helping me has been tremendous.
Evan Harville comes from a tremendous player development background and has already been with the Swarm. So we’re coming in here with a great group of people, and that’s the biggest thing with making sure that everybody’s on the same page with one voice coming from the Hornets to the Swarm, so the culture is already established. Now it’s just a matter of us bridging that gap. I think with the players that we have here; it’s going to be about how we’re going to differentiate the workouts and training for guys in a team format.
That’s the exciting part with figuring out how we can get guys those reps during the season, especially when we’re playing back-to-back games or every other day. It’s about how we get those guys to get better on those off-days, whether it’s with mental reps or talking over game plans or with specific things. The more that we can get these guys to understand those concepts, the better it’s going to be for their careers.
RU: What type of conversations have you had with coach Borrego between then and when you started training camp with the team?
JH: A lot of the conversations have been ongoing with looking at things on a macro level from the head coach’s perspective when it comes to doing everything from setting up the scheduling, who the staff is going to be, how we’re going to get every player on the roster better, and practice times vs. meeting times on zoom.
He was great as he said to keep on being you. I’ve already been in the system going on three years now, and that’s where it gives us an advantage. With not having guys work out before our first training camp day, being able to teach and explain things via Zoom and have that confident voice because I’ve been there with JB and the staff. A lot of that was sitting with him in the office and figuring out how I can simplify things for this experience here for our guys.
While I’ve been here, just picking up things from the standpoint of what’s going on with the Hornets and some side out-of-bounds, baseline out-of-bounds. Just some different nuances of things that I’m going to run here and what he thought if I would try some new things. It’s a combination of everything there. JB and I have a great relationship, and we talk all the time, so that’s really good for me and my voice here is that the players know how deeply entrenched I am with management and the coaching staff there. Everything that we do here is going to mirror exactly what the Hornets are doing there.
RU: As someone that has made a name for himself as a player development coach for almost twenty years, have you had any anxiety or stress about the new duties of being a game manager and setting rotations?
JH: Yeah, I don’t have any concerns. It’s more that I’m anxious and ready to go because I’m excited about this opportunity. At times, I know it’s probably not going to look pretty on my end. You know I always tell our players to make it ugly, make mistakes going hard in practice so that you can be better in games. There’s going to be times when I want a timeout back or a play call back, but I know that’s part of my growing process here. That’s what I love about this league because it keeps on getting better from the standpoint of how it’s run, and it’s going to be the most competitive G League format that we’ve had to date.
The coaches that are here in this bubble are a lot of guys that I respect, whether it’s watching from afar or know personally. It’s really cool to get a chance to compete against those guys, and hopefully, down the line, we look back at this time as something that we really valued. The relationships that we’re building here, because of how tied in we are in this campus, is going to be one of the coolest things to come from this experience.
So, I’m ready to go because I don’t fear mistakes; I fear not trying. When I’m out there, I’m going to be in a situation where I’m ready to grow, ready to learn. After this experience, I’ll know what not to do, have a few things that I’ll like, and know what to do as well.