PORTLAND, Ore. – Harry Giles III has missed this: Parked on the bench with his teammates yelling, clapping and cutting up might not seem like desirable scenarios to a competitor extraordinaire, but Giles’ sideline giddiness at Nike Hoop Summit practice Thursday was rooted in his perspective.
“It feels amazing to be out here with my boys again,” said Giles, the No. 1 overall player in the ESPN 100. “When basketball gets taken from you the way it got taken from me you can’t do anything but appreciate it more. I’ve been stuck in Winston (N.C.) for about five months so to be out here having a good time with my boys is great!”
On Nov. 3, Giles partially tore the ACL in his right knee during his season-opening debut with Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). He subsequently returned home and now takes classes online at Forest Trail Academy (Kernersville, N.C.).
It was Giles’ second experience with an ACL tear — the first came in June of 2013 when he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee while playing with USA Basketball.
That’s why, as much as he’d love to send a reminder to the 145 or so NBA scouts and general managers watching from on the sidelines at Nike Hoop Summit practices all week, Giles is content with strolling around in his USA Basketball garb, spot shooting off to the side and yelling “Yeeeeea boy!” from the bench after ferocious dunks from his teammates.
“I’m grateful,” said Giles, a Duke signee who will suit up but not play for Team USA when they face the World Team at the Nike Hoop Summit on Saturday at the Moda Center 3 p.m. ET (ESPN2). “The reality is that I’ll be back and I’ll be as strong as or stronger than I was before.
“You’ve gotta look at it like basketball could’ve been taken for good, but I’m blessed that I’ll be able to get back on the court in time. I’m not gonna not have fun in the meantime.”
Giles is no stranger to playing the cheerleader role; even at 100 percent he was notorious for being a leader in that regard.
“When my boys do something good on the court,” Giles said. “No one’s happier than me!”
Chaminade College Prep (St. Louis) forward Jayson Tatum said “it just felt right” to have Giles back on the court.
“Harry’s one of my best friends and we’ve always played against each other or at the same events since we were young,” said Tatum, a Duke signee who will room with Giles in Durham next year. “With him not at events this year, it definitely felt a little different. Harry’s like a big kid so he always has a lot of energy. I’m just happy to have him back, even if it’s just from the sideline.”
Giles said we’ll all have to wait to see him on the court until Duke’s Countdown to Craziness event in October.
“We’re just taking everything slow,” Giles said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to rush anything so I definitely won’t be in any summer leagues. I’m doing my rehab at Duke three times a week, I’m in the pool constantly rehabbing and even out here I’m doing my band work with stretching. I’m about to start running. I just want to be 110 percent ready because we’ve got business to handle next season.”
Roughly seven months away from the start of the 2016-17 season, the Blue Devils are already the consensus No. 1 team in the country and favored to cut down the nets in Phoenix a year from now.
Sure, but Giles said he “would’ve been mad” if Duke didn’t have the proverbial “national title favorites” target on their backs.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Giles said matter of factly. “I came to Duke to win a national championship and with Grayson (Allen) back and Amile (Jefferson) and all the guys there, plus all of us coming in, we can get it done. We’ve just got be hungrier than everybody else; I know I will be. Trust me!”
ESPN basketball recruiting director Paul Biancardi said it’s smart for Giles to slow-roll his return to the hardwood.
“Any time a player has a major injury the rule of thumb that I’ve learned is that it’s better to come back two weeks too late than one day too early,” Biancardi said. “I learned that working with Rick Majerus. When you do that, you give yourself the best chance to be successful.”
For now, Giles is solely focused on success with Team USA today. He’s won two gold medals with USA Basketball in the FIBA U17 World Championship and FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
“I definitely want to finish with a win in my last high school event with my USA Basketball family,” Giles said. “I’m having fun. I’ve been happy all week. I hadn’t even had a flight in a minute! So I’m just happy to be here. I’m taking it all in.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY