2017 NBA Draft

Duke's Henry Giles hopes his knee troubles are a thing of past

Forward once seen as a potential No. 1 overall pick out to prove he can stand up to NBA pounding

Scott Howard-Cooper

CHICAGO – There is a risk.

“Right,” Harry Giles agreed, and then agreed again with emphasis and honesty, as in: “Definitely. Because of the injury. But at the same time, you’ve got to give somebody a chance.”

There is a new role as an underdog.

“I love it,” the now-former Duke power forward said, and then more sincerity when he could have spitted out a boilerplate comment about how, really, nothing has changed. “It kind of motivates you. You’re working out and in the game it kind of gives you a little edge. You kind of want to get at people a little more, kind of want to show them what’s up. Some people may have forgotten and sleep on you a little bit. But at the same time I just want to go out there and show them. Try to be the hunter.”

There is, above all, a statement.

“The team that wants to take a chance on me,” he told NBA.com with even tones but certainty, “they won’t regret it.”

No kicker of emphasis or sincerity necessary.

Giles six weeks before the Draft is exactly where he should be, even if he isn’t close to what he could be, truthful about his tough draw yet pointing straight ahead on a new plan for success. He is denying nothing about needing to prove himself and embracing the challenge he never wanted and finding strength in the adversity. He is the ultimate in “what could have been” and feeling bouncy about what still may be.

He may be the ultimate story in many years, a reminder driven home this week, again, as front offices and prospects for the June 22 selections gather for the annual pre-Draft combine. The player who would have been in the mix for No. 1 if this was only about talent, after all, arrived in town at No. 14 in the latest NBA.com Top 30 rankings because this is not only about talent.

It’s about the surgery on his left knee in 2013 after tearing ligaments and cartilage while playing for the United States in an age-group tournament in Uruguay.

And the surgery after tearing a ligament in his right knee in a high school game in 2015.

And the other surgery on his left knee last October, for an unspecified injury.

Four years, three knee operations. One big draft issue.

“It’s frustrating. Just something you go through in your mind, like ‘Man, I know I could do this if it wasn’t for the injuries.’ But at the same time, you’ve got to understand where you’re at. Accept and move on from there.”

Harry Giles, on his Draft prospects

“Coming out of last season, before the latest injury, people had him ranked as the No. 1 player in the country,” one general manager said.

Giles would have been a candidate for No. 1.

“Of course,” the GM said.

He has that much talent.


With the same abundance of red flags to match, to where another head of basketball operations, asked about Giles for the late-teens on June 22 despite the talent and potential, said, “That’s about right.” But also, optimistically noting how front offices continue to take a long look even amid the obvious risk, that “Young guys heal.”

Giles missed the first 11 games of 2016-17 during the recovery from the latest operation, then averaged 3.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and just 11.5 minutes while appearing in each of the next 26 outings for a Duke team that also had potential top-five pick Jayson Tatum and likely first-rounder Luke Kennard. That included stretches with a big role for a national-championship contender… and six minutes against Troy in the first round of the tournament followed by nine minutes in the loss to South Carolina in the second.

Come May, with the draft approaching, with Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Tatum and De’Aaron Fox far ahead of him in the pack leading the way to the draft, it’s hard not to play the what-if game.

What if he hadn’t been hurt so much? Or at least had last been hurt a couple years ago, to avoid the knee problems turning into a pattern, not just something that has happened to a lot of players before a comeback as part of the success story. Giles has played it himself.

“Yes and no,” he said. “I try not to as much. You’ve always got to have confidence in yourself. It’s never going to be a what-if? It’s always a what are you going to do?”

There is still frustration.

“Definitely,” Giles said. “It’s frustrating. Just something you go through in your mind, like ‘Man, I know I could do this if it wasn’t for the injuries.’ But at the same time, you’ve got to understand where you’re at. Accept and move on from there.”

Which is exactly where he finds himself as the buildup to the Draft reaches the next stage, with the combine here this week followed by the lottery on Tuesday night. He is an underdog now not long after being at the center of the recruiting universe, on the comeback trail and talking with confidence that the team that chooses him on June 22 won’t regret it. He understands exactly where he is. Harry Giles has accepted and moved on from there.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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