Giles: ‘I Know My Time is Coming’

Two hours before tipoff, in the soft glow of a projection screen that loops game film inside a cramped visitors’ locker room, Harry Giles bends into squat after squat with a dumbbell in each hand.

His face sparkling with beads of sweat and his sleeveless black shirt clinging to his chest, he doesn’t deviate from the exercise while conversing with team staffers or firing one-liners at fellow rookies De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson.

The biggest challenge, Giles says, isn’t the grueling, seemingly-unending strength-building routine. It’s continuing to rehab as his first-year teammates change from dark jeans and polos to game uniforms at their lockers, when there’s no jersey to be found among his own personal belongings.

“The hardest part is just not playing – getting ready every day, doing everything else, but not playing,” Giles said. “I have to pack the same, pretty much. I might pack more blazers than anybody else because I know I’m not going to play.”

But he’s working on changing that, inching toward getting his body – most importantly, the knees that have undergone three operations in four years – ready to finally take the court with each repetitive motion.

Few could blame the North Carolina native, twice the top-rated high school player in the nation, if he’d vent in frustration at his current circumstances or ponder hypothetical what-if scenarios, but his upbeat demeanor never dissipates.

“Because I know that my time is coming,” he said. “It’s not like I’m (thinking), ‘I might not play. I might not do this or do that.’ I know it’s about just me working and getting better. I have to look at it like it’s only getting me ready for when my time really comes.”

Just over a full calendar year has passed since the 6-foot-11 forward last played in an organized basketball game —nine minutes in Duke’s second-round NCAA Tournament loss to South Carolina on March 19, 2017 — which might feel like an eternity to a 19-year-old who can’t remember a time when he didn’t have his hands on a Spalding as a child.

Only Giles, as a trainer applies ice packs and meticulously wraps both knees, is all too familiar with the waiting game, recognizing perhaps more than anyone why patience is his best option.

As a freshman at High Point Wesleyan in 2013, Giles ranked as the No. 1 recruit in his class, his tantalizing combination of length, touch and world-class athleticism evoking early comparisons to NBA MVPs.

“Some people try to say Kevin Durant, some Kevin Garnett; I think he’s just a unique player for his particular time,” said Wesleyan Head Coach Keith Gatlin. “Harry is a skilled post guy that’s aggressive on the block, that will tear your head off and then take you outside. He’s a matchup nightmare. I’ve never seen anything like him in my life, to be honest.”

Then, at age 15, Giles tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee while playing for USA Basketball in Uruguay in 2013. The initial diagnosis was so shocking that the five-star recruit admits he thought his basketball career was already over; he wound up missing only one season.

After coming back as a junior with virtually no signs the devastating injury ever happened, Giles was once again touted as one of the most physically-gifted frontcourt prospects, demonstrating his strength inside, agility to beat defenders off the dribble and outside range that extends to the three-point arc.

In just his second game back on the court, the versatile forward scored a career-high 38 points along with 19 rebounds on Nov. 14, 2014, and finished the season averaging 23.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game en route to leading the Trojans to a 30-5 record and a NCISAA 3A state-championship game appearance.

In the summer, Giles flourished on the USA Basketball Under-19 team that won the FIBA World Championship in Greece, and soon after, netted 17.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per outing with his AAU team, CP3 All-Stars, sponsored by longtime friend and Houston Rockets All-Star Chris Paul.

“That’s my big brother,” Giles said. “It’s crazy the steps our relationship took. I met him forever ago. I was a kid, and just growing up (he was) always there. We kind of just got closer. I played on his (AAU) team, and ever since then, he just took me under his wing.

“Being from the same hometown, growing up around the same things, playing in the same areas, being around the same people – he can relate to that. He’s laying the path down for me, in a way, and I think he’s always helped me in my career regardless of what it would be.”

The future Kings draftee would look to Paul, along with dozens of close family members and friends, for words of advice and inspiration often over the course of the next year.

In the first scrimmage of his senior year at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, Giles – who’d climbed back to the No. 1 rank in his class by ESPN – tore the ACL in his right knee, which robbed him of another high school season.

After committing to Duke in October 2016, he underwent a left knee arthroscopy that sidelined him for the first 11 games of the 2016-17 campaign. Limited to 11.5 minutes per night once he rejoined the Blue Devils, Giles averaged 3.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 0.7 blocks – translating to 13.6 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per 40 minutes.

“I had a tough year, really fighting injuries the whole time,” he said. “I wish I could go back and do it again, kind of just embrace certain moments and do things differently, if I could. But at the same time, I was having fun … I got better as the season went on, and I felt good.”

Despite his limitless upside, questions about his bilateral knee injuries caused many teams to shy away from a prospect who was deemed too risky for the Lottery and ultimately slipped to Sacramento at No. 20.

For Giles, Sacramento presented an ideal situation, where the rookie wasn’t burdened with heavy expectations of being an immediate franchise savior, but able to work at his own pace with the training staff and utilize the most advanced medical and scientific technology to gauge his progress.

Although he didn’t suffer any setbacks, the Kings opted to play it safe with the prized big man, holding him out for the entire season in hopes the extra time would allow him to gain strength in his joints and become accustomed to the rigors of the professional lifestyle.

“It started with the core; just trying to keep everything strong in the middle, so that way, it kind of spreads throughout everywhere else,” Giles said of his regimen. “And then my legs, because that’s where the majority of my injuries (have been). It’s just strengthening the bottom part of my body the most I can, along with my upper body, too.”

In addition to simulating game situations in practice, No. 20 has taken advantage of his viewpoint from the sidelines to carefully study opposing teams’ plays and his counterparts’ tendencies.

“I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff you learn that you can’t really explain. As a basketball player, you see it – certain plays, certain situations. Especially when you play a team one or two times, you get a feel for team and the players.”

In January, Giles, accompanied by Kings Assistant General Manager Brandon Williams, visited P3 (Peak Performance Project), a Santa Barbara-based company dedicated to applied sports science and physical therapy.

The evaluation showed that not only are the forward’s knees fully healed, but he’s exceeded expectations in virtually every area of measurement, and added 20 lbs. of proportioned muscle to his wiry frame.

“We don’t have to talk about Harry as injured,” Williams said. “There are no red flags.”

As much as he wants to join his teammates on the court, Giles is grateful for the continuous support he’s received as he pushes through each vigorous individual rehab session and shows glimpses of his immense talent in team scrimmages.

“The younger guys, they’re telling me, ‘You’re doing good, I see it happening for you,” he said. “And when you hear it from the older guys – guys who’ve been in the League, who see the work, who see the potential – that’s really positive and motivational for me. They tell me, ‘Keep following your path and it’s going to work out for you.’”

Kings players have raved about the skilled forward's progress, marveling at the court vision, basketball instincts and defensive acumen they’ve seen up close throughout practices all year.

As temperatures begin to creep toward triple-digits and Summer League no longer seems like a mirage in the distant future, Giles doesn’t need a reminder about the date he has circled on his calendar. His belated, highly-anticipated NBA debut is finally on the horizon, and he can’t wait for the sweltering July heat in Las Vegas.

“I’m feeling great and I’m super excited,” he said. “Summer League is a great event; a great little warm-up to the season, to get people excited for you. It’s the start of my career and it’s great to be a part of.

“For me to be out there, competing and playing in the NBA, that’s everything.”