It’s fitting, ironic even, that as Harry Giles slumps in a chair courtside at the Spectrum Center, team doctors come by to wrap ice bags around his knees.
Those knees have dictated Giles’ young basketball career to this point, and they will determine how far he goes.
But by the sound of it, Giles isn’t worried.
“I’ve been feeling great,” Giles said Monday morning, hours before the Charlotte Hornets defeated his Sacramento Kings. “Just taking my time, just getting stronger each day and getting my rhythm back.”
That rhythm is something Giles hasn’t had in years, again courtesy of those pesky knees. The issues date back to his freshman year of high school at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, when he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee. Then, in his senior season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, he tore the right ACL in the season opener.
Giles, then the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2016 ESPN 100, was one of the most physically dominant high school players in years. His 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame was NBA-ready from the time he got his learner’s permit, and his presence in the paint made him a menace on both ends of the court.
Of course, all those accolades mean nothing if you can’t stay on the court. Giles underwent arthroscopic surgery before his lone season at Duke and missed the team’s first 11 games. When he came back, he only averaged 3.9 points in 11.5 minutes.
At the end of the year, Giles made the decison to leave Duke despite his limited playing time. His athletic potential alone made him the 20th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, who traded him on draft night to the Kings.
But Giles hasn’t played a minute for Sacramento this season.
“I haven’t played in a while, in a real long time,” Giles said. “I just want to get out there and play the way I want to play, being all the way healthy and comfortable and confident and 100 percent.
“It’ll be the first time I’ve done that in a long time, so it’ll be good for me.”
On Thursday, the Kings announced they were shutting Giles down for the season – but not because he isn’t making the requisite progress. Rather, Sacramento is taking precautions to ensure a full recovery.
“I’m sure he’s frustrated,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said of the 19-year-old. “No player ever enjoys a redshirt year. So to keep yourself motivated every day and to keep a smile on your face, he’s done a great job of that.”
To Giles’ credit, he could have taken Thursday’s announcement two ways: sulk and mope and be angry because you can’t play; or work harder, let your frustration drive you to be a better player and person.
Giles said he has chosen the latter.
Asked if this timeline for recovery has been what he expected, Giles said, “Yeah definitely, definitely. It’s everything that I expected and that we talked about from the beginning. Take the proper steps and approach, keep the timetable where it’s supposed to be.”
Meantime, Giles is getting adjusted to NBA life. This time last year, he was attending classes and coming off the bench at Duke. Now he’s traversing the country with the rest of this young Kings team (11 of 17 players are 25 or younger), figuring out how to fill his ample free time (which he considers the biggest difference from college) and still stay on his trajectory to regular NBA minutes.
Somehow, he’s doing it all with a smile. Even being around practice, talking about the potential to return – it’s enough to light up his eyes. And when you have that sort of excitement, the hunger from not playing competitively at full strength in more than two years can carry over to your workouts. To your rehab. To your path back to basketball.
“Better results when I’m working out, so I’ve gotten better a lot faster than I expected,” Giles said. “It’s been good. Just putting in work and working hard.
“You know, you get good results if you work hard.”