Former Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego recently spoke to Franchise Sports about his time as the head coach of the Hornets, what he learned from Gregg Popovich, and which young players to look out for in the upcoming season.
He also shares his thoughts on being the first Hispanic head coach in the NBA and gives advice to aspiring coaches.
Being the first Hispanic head coach in the NBA
In 2018, the Hornets named James Borrego as their head coach. He became the first Hispanic full-time head coach in NBA history.
Borrego said, “I’m very fortunate and grateful to work for a league that is so inclusive, diverse, and is really progressive. And I’m just another example of that.”
“I want my story to impact other young people to just know that there’s no limitations to what you can accomplish, where you can go. I would have never imagined being here as a young kid growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.” he added.
Hornets’ development over the years
The Hornets vastly improved in the two years under him. They managed to increase their wins by ten in back-to-back seasons. Last season, Charlotte was a .500 team for the first time in seven years.
Borrego said, “I look back at our time in Charlotte and I’m very proud of what we did. The last two years we improved by ten wins. Only Phoenix and Golden State did that. So we continue to grow every single year, and I think that’s the measure of a good program, a good staff, and good players.”
Player development was the biggest catalyst in Charlotte’s growth as a team. Borrego believed that development is the lifeblood of any organization, not just in the NBA. He also believed that this is the one area that you can control the most as a coach.
Borrego said, “I’m very proud of how we grew and developed… They were very open, they were very receptive. Thankful to my staff that we put together a plan. We are very specific, specific with every player on how we would grow them, how we would develop them.”
“All our players, whether they were undrafted, second-round picks, first-round picks, and even players that were more veteran players, we prided ourselves on getting our players better.”
“And so that’s my philosophy. That’s where you build your organization. That’s how you grow through development, getting better every single day, having a plan, and putting it to work every single year. So yes, no matter where I’m at, what I do, development will always be the focus.” he added.
On LaMelo Ball’s potential
Borrego discussed the importance of player development and there’s no doubt that LaMelo Ball is the one who developed the most. At age 21, he’s already a superstar in the making—averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game. Thus, Borrego was asked if the former Rookie of the Year has the potential to be an all-time great.
Borrego said, “I enjoyed coaching him. He’s coachable, he’s lovable, he’s got great energy every single day.”
“Based on what I know about him, his core, his character, his love for the game, his work, ethic, the sky’s the limit for him. He has great potential to be an all-time great.” he added.
What he learned from Gregg Popovich
Borrego was recently spotted with former colleagues Gregg Popovich and Ettore Messina in Italy. As you know, Borrego and Messina were under Popovich’s coaching staff in San Antonio. Thus, Borrego discussed what it was like to be on Popovich’s bench and what are the most important things that he learned from him.
Borrego said, “I learned discipline, I learned structure, I learned accountability. I learned about clarity, giving your staff clarity, your team clarity, and really building an identity and holding them accountable to that system.
“Pop lasted so long because he’s been able to adapt. I think that’s one trait I’ve taken from him, and he and I spend some time talking about these last couple of weeks. Just his ability and openness to adapt to different players, different styles.” he added.
There’s no doubt that Popovich is one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. Popovich’s greatness is felt across his entire coaching tree. Other notable names such as Mike Budenholzer, Monty Williams, and Steve Kerr were all under him before they became successful as head coaches with their own teams.
Which young players to look out for in the upcoming season
Borrego started with Holmgren and said, “It’s unfortunate that Chet at Oklahoma City got injured. That was an individual, a kid that I was looking forward to watching.”
The second overall pick suffered a foot injury this offseason which will make him miss the entire 2022-23 season. Holmgren is an elite prospect with crazy upside due to his size, defense, and ability to stretch the floor.
Given Holmgren’s season-ending injury, Borrego turned his eyes towards Paolo Banchero. He said, “Banchero coming in with the Orlando Magic. I think he’s gonna be really fun to watch this year. I hear a lot of great things, and I’ve been watching him from afar. He’s going to be a very exciting player for our league”.
Banchero is arguably the most NBA-ready talent in this year’s draft class. His ability to do everything offensively at his size is enough to be excited for him this upcoming season.
Advice to aspiring basketball coaches
Lastly, we asked Borego if he has some advice for aspiring basketball coaches. He shared the importance of just getting out there and putting yourself in uncomfortable positions.
Borrego said, “Get around the best basketball minds. Learn, ask questions, listen, and put yourself in some uncomfortable positions, whether you’re coaching a new team, a high school team, whatever level you can get into. Get your hands on players and start working and growing and building your identity as a basketball coach.”
“Sometimes you’re going to fail, sometimes you’re going to succeed. But that’s the beauty in this process. Just put yourself out there. Get a little bit uncomfortable, and you know, at the end of the day you’ll continue to grow.” he added.
The Jr. NBA Coaches – Online program presented by Gatorade® is hosted on OWQLO and features 12 live virtual coaching clinics from February to September for app users 16 years and older in the UK. The next clinic with former NBA head coach James Borrego takes place on Thursday, September 15. For more info, visit owqlo.com, gatorade.co.uk and @NBAUK on Facebook and Twitter and @NBAEurope on Instagram.