Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Harry Giles is Ready to Help Duke Win the NCAA Championship
NEW YORK — Through the first two days of practice here at the Jordan Brand Classic, Harry Giles has been one of the largest cheerleaders you will ever see.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound power forward has been sitting on the bench, rooting on the East team, which includes his future Duke teammate Jayson Tatum. The East will meet the West on Friday at 8 p.m at Barclays Center (ESPN).
“I’ve accepted it now because I’ve been through it from the [beginning of the] season, from November when I got hurt,” Giles said of tearing his right ACL on Nov. 4 while playing for Oak Hill Academy in a game that Kentucky coach John Calipari watched while scouting Giles before he committed to Duke.
“I try not to be frustrated about it. Obviously, it’s tough because I’m a competitor and I love to play so it’s more hurting because I want to be out there so bad. But at the same time, I know I just gotta get ready for Duke and better things will happen.”
As far as a timetable for when he might return to the court, Giles said, “Right now [it’s] just day-to-day. It’s more of a when I think I’m ready, when they think I’m ready, when I look like I should.”
Asked if he expects to be ready for the start of the 2016-17 college season, Giles said, “Definitely, definitely, definitely.”
That would mean Giles would be on display for the Champions Classic on Nov. 15, where Duke is set to face Josh Jackson and Kansas while Kentucky meets Michigan State at Madison Sguare Garden.
Giles, who tore both of his ACLs during his high school career, was invited to both the Nike Hoop Summit and the Jordan Classic as a sign of good faith.
“It was an honor,” he said. “I appreciate the Nike Hoop Summit and Jordan still inviting me out here, thankful for that because I missed the McDonald’s game so that was tough. So I appreciate them still inviting me out here.”
Giles, who is the projected No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft behind Tatum by DraftExpress.com, is enjoying fraternizing with his future teammates and classmates for one last round of All-Star Games.
“Really just vibing with everybody,” he said. “It’s our last event right here, then we’re off to college so we just gotta enjoy it.”
Duke has the No. 2-ranked recruiting class in the nation behind Kentucky, and Giles is looking forward to playing alongside Tatum and Jackson, as well as the other incoming recruits and returning players like Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones and redshirt big man Amile Jefferson.
“I can’t wait, I’m excited to be at Duke because we’re on the biggest stage, now we’re in college,” he said. “It’s not like we’re in USA or high school anymore. We’re at school, at college, what everybody’s been waiting for. I’m excited because both of those guys [Tatum and Jackson] are great players so it’s going to be something special to see.”
Several players here, including Miles Bridges and Jonathan Isaac, called the 6-8 Tatum the hardest player to defend.
“He’s so fluid and polished” Giles said of his future frontcourt mate. “He’s got the mid-range game mastered. You see his game, it’s fluid. He’s tough, he’s tough. He loves to win. Both of those guys [Jackson and Tatum] love to win so I’m excited to compete with those guys and I can’t wait.”
With Derryck Thornton transferring from Duke, the 6-4 Jackson now figures to have a much bigger role at the point.
“He’s gotta step up honestly,” Giles said. “He’s just gotta go in there and play hard, just compete. There’s no promising spot for nobody.”
Giles said he hasn’t seen much of Jackson until recently.
“He’s incredible, he’s a strong point guard,” Giles said. “He can shoot it, athletic, so I’m excited to play with him.”
As for the Thornton transfer, Giles said he still supports his friend even if they won’t be playing together.
“He’s s still my boy, we go back to 8 years old honestly when we first started playing AAU basketball,” Giles added. “I texted him the other day and told him best of luck what everybody’s saying, saying [Coach K] forced you out or you left. Why did you leave? I said, you have to make the best decision for you and I’ll support him regardless because we’ll be bros to the end.”
Duke was installed by Bovada as a 9/2 favorite to win the NCAA championship in 2017 and Giles isn’t backing down from those odds.
“I”m trying to win a national championship, there’s no need for me to sugar coat anything or act like I’m not,” he said. “That’s my goal going in. I’m going to work hard and I’m willing to do anything to get it.”
He added: “We’re coming from high school so we gotta go in and learn from all the coaches honestly because coach [Jon] Scheyer and coach Nolan [Smith], they’ve won national championships. Coach [Nate] James won it. All of them know how to win a national championship so we gotta go in with open ears and just learn and be ready to work.”
Kentucky, with its loaded class, is right behind at 6/1 odds to win it all. Giles and the Kentucky guys have been talking some trash.
“That’s every year, battle of the bluebloods, battle of the blue,” he said. “Which blue is better? We all bros though, we all came up together.”
Assuming he’s ready to go, Giles should slide into the frontcourt alongside Jefferson and rising sophomore Chase Jeter to provide a powerful force in the paint.
“I’m bringing energy, bring my game,” he said. “Just play my game and really just contribute to the team. I’m going to do whatever I can to win. That’s my main goal, winning. If you win, everybody’s going to get success. The individual stuff will come.”
Both Duke and Kentucky remain in the mix for uncommitted 6-9 big man Marques Bolden of DeSoto (TX), and Giles would like to see him pick Duke.
“Definitely, I’m on him,” he said. “He’s gotta make the right decision for him. I’m going to support him. If he doesn’t come to Duke, I’m still going to support him but if he does that will be great, too.”
Giles believes he and Bolden would complement each other down low.
“I’m unselfish, I played with other good players before,” he said. “I played with Diamond Stone, Ivan Raab, so I know how to play with good bigs. It works out for itself. Good players can play with each other, it’s not that hard. People kind of blow it out of proportion. But we both unselfish, so it will be perfect.
“That’s why I want him so bad because I know I can make him so much better and we can go at it in practice and make each other better. With Amile and Chase, that’s a good four-big rotation. We go at it every day in practice, we can’t help but get better.”
Giles is also confident he’ll be as explosive — if not more so — than before the second ACL tear.
“Oh, definitely because last time I was more explosive than I was before,” he said. “You working on muscles every day, you working on muscles that you normally don’t hit and you’re consistently working out. At a certain point in team, even after you get 100 percent, you’re still doing rehab to maintain your body and you’re still working out. I’m working on my whole body so that definitely helps me get more explosive.”
Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, who played at Duke and also suffered a torn ACL in the NBA, told me he believes Giles will come back as strong as ever.
“I’ve seen him grown and man, he’ s great player,” Parker said in November. “He’s always going to be a top player. I hope he comes back strong and better, and he has a bright future.”
A year from now, if his body holds up and he performs at the level he’s come to expect, Giles could be ready to follow former Duke one-and-dones like Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Justice Winslow, Tyus Jones and now Brandon Ingram into the NBA.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It goes off my play. I don’t want to jump and say I want to be in the NBA. That’s my goal. If it’s in a year then so be it, if it’s not then so be it. you just gotta go back to work.
“That’s my goal. You shouldn’t be playing if you’re not trying to be the best. If you’re playing basketball you want to be the best at all times.”
NThrough the first two days of practice here at the Jordan Brand Classic, Harry Giles has been one of the largest cheerleaders you will ever see.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.