Harry Giles III, takes a pass at the top of the key, hesitates for just a second, then with two quick steps, sends a thunderous dunk home. Some of the NCAA basketball coaches who are in attendance cast a sideways look, as if wondering if everyone else saw what had just transpired.
There are times at the training camp for the U17 National Team that Giles shows flashes of his old self, the one that was considered the No. 1 player in the country as a freshman. But there are other times, when he is winded on defense, that it’s clear he’s not all the way back from the horrific knee injury he suffered last summer while playing for USA Basketball in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Uruguay. When he got back to the States, he had surgery to repair damage to his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and his meniscus, all in his left knee.
He spent his sophomore season year watching his teammates at Wesleyan Christian (Winston-Salem, N.C.), finally getting cleared to play again in April.
“I’m about 85-95 percent,” Giles says. “It takes time. I know it is going to be day-by-day. I have to get back into shape and get that motor back, get that drive in me. That goal gets me going, makes me forget about the soreness that I have and my knee hurting.”
Herman Harried, one of the assistant coaches at the training camp who is working with the big men, says that if Giles is hurting, it doesn’t show.
“He’s tough,” Harried said. “He gets off his feet very well. He has explosiveness around the basket and a has a good first step. He’s fast. His development looks pretty good. I’ve watched him run and he’s not limping or favoring his leg.”
Instead of withdrawing during his rehabilitation, Giles says he found solace in attending Wesleyan Christian’s practices and games, being a 6-foot-10 cheerleader.
“Sometimes, my knee hurt and I felt like I could not do anything, but you have to find that energy to replace those feelings,” Giles says. “When I was hurt, I was in the gym every day, regardless. That was the place for me, that’s where my heart is, in the gym, so when I go in there, I feel like I am at home. I was around friends and good people and I just prayed to God, just keep me up, don’t keep me down. Just have fun.”
His rehabilitation consisted of pool work and enough time on the bike to be in the Tour de France.
“I love to play, so it was tough to sit on the sidelines and not play, because I am competitive,” Giles says. “I have been injured a lot, unfortunately. But I had never been out that long. I never really got to thank everybody that helped me, like my close friends and my family. You find out who your real friends are when you’re hurt. My teammates and my coaches picked me up.”
Giles even got encouraging messages from Chris Paul, who sponsors the CP3 All-Stars, the AAU team that Giles plays for and from the Philadelphia 76ers’ Nerlens Noel, who was recovering from a knee injury of his own. In April, Giles was cleared for basketball but has eased his way back into things.
“I was a little worried the first time someone hit my knee,” Giles says. “Now, if I see something coming, I’ll back away. I try not to think about it. That’s the worst thing you can do. If I am going to be hurt, I’m going to be hurt. I can’t worry about it.”
Giles still has enough of his game that he still stands out, even among the elite players at the U16 camp. While he says he isn’t jumping yet as high as he was, he has no problems getting high enough to be one of the best dunkers in the camp. He sets picks with a wide athletic stance and pulls down plenty of rebounds. When he’s not winded, his outside shot is falling as well.
“I have to get used to running up and down, the long workout,” Giles says. “Two-a-days are tough. But I don’t think about my legs. I put in enough work to where my knee will hold up. Really, it’s just getting back to the grind, every play, every drill, every practice.”
His mother, Melissa Giles, says she tries to tell her son not to over-think his recovery.
“I always want him to have the easy road, but sometimes we have to take the road less traveled,” she says. “And I always tell him that God ordered your steps, so you’re going to be OK.”
Finalists pared down to 17: Giles was one of 17 finalists announced Saturday for the USA U17 World Championship team. The rest, with their high school and home town: Malik Newman (Callaway, Jackson, Miss.); Tyus Battle (Gill St. Bernard’s School, Edison, N.J.); Thomas Bryant (Huntington Prep, W.Va., Rochester, N.Y.); Henry Ellenson (Rice Lake, Rice Lake, Wis.); Terrence Ferguson (Prime Prep Academy, Flower Mound, Texas); De’Aaron Fox (Cypress Lakes, Katy, Texas); Mustapha Heron (Sacred Heart, West Haven, Conn.); Josh Jackson (Consortium College Prep, Southfield, Mich.); V.J. King (St. Vincent-St. Mary, Akron, Ohio); T.J. Leaf (Foothills Christian, Lakeside, Calif.); Ivan Rabb (Bishop O’Dowd, Oakland, Calif.); Devearl Ramsey (Sierra Canyon, Los Angeles); Diamond Stone (Dominican, Milwaukee, Wis.); Caleb Swanigan (Homestead, Fort Wayne, Ind.); Jayson Tatum (Chaminade College Prep, St. Louis, Mo.); and Derryck Thornton (Findlay Prep, Nev., Simi Valley, Calif.).
“It was really a difficult decision that the committee arrived at,” said USA head coach Don Showalter of Iowa City, Iowa. “I think it boiled down to a few things, like what do we feel is going to make the best team, who can play defense and who can hit shots. I think the 17 guys that we have right now can all fit that category. It’s going to be difficult to cut this group down to 12, but having a few more practices allows us to look at the players in different positions and how we’re going to use the kids as a team, see what happens when we put in a system. I think it’s really good that we keep 17 at this time. It allows us to put in a system and see how they function in a system.”