HIGH POINT, N.C. – Harry Giles III walks down the north end baseline of the Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.) practice gym tossing a basketball in the air and watching his teammates scurry up and down the floor playing pickup.
He’s happy on this unseasonably warm October evening; hyping one-on-one matchups from the sideline and laughing when players end up on the short end of nasty crossovers.
The casual observer would likely surmise that Giles III, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, will play next.
Makes sense since Giles III is parading around in basketball shorts and T-shirt anxiously awaiting score updates every few buckets.
Remarkable since it was just four months ago that Giles III violently ripped the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee during a 96-72 win over Argentina in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship on June 12 in Maldonado, Uruguay.
“Harry never acts or looks as injured as he is,” said Giles III’s mother Melissa Giles. “So when you find out how bad it is it’s like ‘Whoa!’ He’s handling it well though.”
“It’s been a real eye opener,” Giles III said. “I know it can always happen to anyone, but, I’ll be honest, I never thought it would happen to me.”
It’s relative; there’s a certain air of invincibility that comes along with being widely regarded as the No. 1 player in your class; add in “the next big thing” buzz and it’s easy to see why Giles III admitted, albeit it briefly, to being the guest of honor at his own pity initially.
And who could blame him.
Here Giles III was coming off of a stellar season where he’d helped the Trojans win the NCISAA 3A state title averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds a game. He continued his dominance early in the AAU season with the CP3 All Stars (N.C.) averaging 18 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks a game; often times with Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Roy Williams, Thad Matta or another college coaching giant watching his every move.
“Then this happens,” Giles III said. “It’s weird because I’ve always heard that everyone that tears their ACL yells and screams when it happens because of the pain, but that wasn’t me. The pain of hearing what I’d done hurt worse because I knew what came with that. You kinda go into denial at first.”
Then came perspective.
Nine days after Giles III’s injury he learned that his friend, New Hope Christian (Thomasville, N.C.) guard Celeste Burgess passed away in a car accident. According to WFMY News 2, Burgess was on her way to a basketball camp at Auburn when the accident occurred.
“It just reminded Harry that, while hurting his knee was very unfortunate, in the grand scheme of things he had nothing to complain about,” said Giles III’s father Harry Giles Jr. “He would play again. We talk a lot about being appreciative in life period, and the gifts that he’s been blessed with. This is just a minor setback, but he’s blessed to say he’ll be back soon.”
“I know God has a plan for me; there’s something for me to learn with this whole process,” Giles III said. “I’m OK with that now; I’ve accepted that. I’m blessed to be able to continue playing at all. I just want to go as hard as possible in rehab so I can get back to playing the game I love.”
Still, Wesleyan Christian coach Keith Gatlin is quick to preach the virtue of patience to his young star. Though sure, as a former player who also tore his ACL, Gatlin gets that Giles III gets stir crazy at times waiting to get back to throwing down 360-windmill dunks and draining free-throw line jumpers, but he consistently tells Giles III that his current focus should be twofold: “Books and rehab.”
“The hardest thing to get Harry to understand is that he doesn’t have anything to prove,” Gatlin said. “He’s the No. 1 player in his class and he’s been offered by pretty much everyone in the country. We’ll miss him dearly, but I’m more concerned with him getting back to 100 percent above anything else. The irony is that you want a motivated, competitive kid like him, but that mindset also comes in to play when there’s an injury like this.”
ESPN recruiting analyst Reggie Rankin spent extensive time around Giles III at the Under Armour Elite 24 in August and again at the USA Developmental Team Mini-Camp last week.
His message to who he describes as “a young Chris Webber?”
“I always tell him you’ll come back better than you ever thought you would,” Rankin said. “The key is to be conservative. You only want to come back one time. I’d rather be too late than too early. He’s handled this injury as well as any young player could. He’s a rare talent, but it’s gonna take time.”
Be that as it may, it’s a hard sell to an uber-competitive super-athlete with cable.
“You see guys like Adrian Peterson and RG3 (Robert Griffin III) come back from the same injury in no time,” Giles III said. “I can’t lie; it does make you wonder if you should be back as soon as them. At the same time, they’re older and their more developed and they’ve got a lot of resources. I’m just taking my time and going to rehab every week. I don’t wanna rush anything. People were all over Derrick Rose for taking his time coming back, but I understand what he was doing now. The doctor said around six or eight months. I’m really OK with waiting. I’m fine with it.”
Suddenly, Giles III’s teammate, Theo Pinson, a North Carolina commit, makes a crossover dribble from left to right, darts through a short opening in the lane and throws down a rim-rocking two-handed dunk.
A handful of teens run around wide-eyed with their hands covering their mouths simultaneously yelling “Ooh!”
Giles III joins in.
Eventually the collective excitement subsides. Not for Giles III.
The Sportscenter-esqe play has obviously struck a nerve.
“Ya know, in January it’ll be six months, right,” Giles said with a smile. “I mean, I don’t know if I’ll play this year… But don’t rule it out. Don’t rule it out.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY