Swarm coach's job: Both simple and complicated


GREENSBORO — Noel Gillespie has simple job description and a complicated job.

As head coach of the Greensboro Swarm, his job is to develop players, period. But developing a roster of first- and second-year pros, all with career aspirations that don’t include playing in the G-League, is tricky.

Gillespie is employed by the Charlotte Hornets, the parent NBA club of the G-League Swarm.

In most cases, the players on his Swarm roster have been sent to Greensboro by the Hornets to develop into NBA players.

So Gillespie, who spent 10 years as an NBA assistant coach before coming to Greensboro, is tasked with creating a competitive team as well as managing the individual development of the players the Hornets have identified as having potential.

“After being an assistant in the NBA, I got the itch to be a head coach,” said Gillespie, who worked with the Pacers, Nuggets and Suns in the NBA. “I enjoy being able to be a head coach of a professional team and have the accountability that comes with having everything under my watch.

“But I enjoy teaching the game the most.”

And he does a lot of teaching.

Other than teaching his Swarm players the Hornets’ offensive and defensive systems, Gillespie is busy making sure they are prepared for the NBA.

“I want to develop players to have a skill set that NBA teams are looking for,” Gillespie said. “I tell the players, ‘Let’s work daily on a skill set and implement those skills in games.’”

Gillespie points to a trio of players from last year’s Swarm team as examples of how the system can work. Perry Ellis is playing in Australia, Mike Tobey is playing in Spain and Rasheed Sulaimon is playing in France.

“They are getting a chance to play and make some money, and they are still under the Hornets’ watchful eye,” he said. “We have the opportunity to put them in the summer league or put them in a training camp.”

Complicating Gillespie job as a developer of talent is the lack of veterans in the G-League. Young players on NBA rosters have the benefit of watching and learning from veterans. Swarm players don’t have that.

“On the NBA teams I’ve been with, you usually have one rookie, or maybe two. The rest are veterans,” Gillespie said. “Now I have 10-12 rookies.

“Our veterans are 22-23 years old and in their second year as a pro.”

So Gillespie and his staff are teaching their players how to handle everything from executing a game plan to dealing with being subbed, and how to be a pro in general.

To do that effectively, Gillespie has found it’s best to be clear, direct and honest with players.

“If they are not progressing in an area, you let them know,” he said. “I tell them, my job is to make you better and I am going to stay on you.”

How all that translates onto the court is important, of course. But Gillespie is in the unique situation as a professional coach who is not judged primarily on wins and losses.

“This is a developmental league, but at the same time we want to win,” he said. “If I can get all the potential out of a player, I consider that a success.”