The Preview

So you guys may or may not know, but I despise Duke! Always have and always will. It also may be the fact that I live in North Carolina and come in contact with a lot of UNC fans. But nonetheless, I am not a fan of Duke and I will never truly admit to them being “back”. However, I will agree to freshman stud and standout Harry Giles being back after a loooong bumpy road and now being better than ever. I wanted to highlight my opinion on Harry as he is one of the only players on Duke that I like and how I think he will help Duke in the tourney.

Well, Harry Giles has been physically ready to play basketball for some time now if I do say so myself. But certainly, his development as a collegiate player would be much better if he hadn’t been sidelined for two months because of his third knee surgery in four years. I mean seriously, THREE surgeries on one of the most important parts of your body for a basketball player in a span of just FOUR years is just mind blowing. That has ended players careers both at the collegiate level and the professional level. For him to bounce back is quite the accomplishment, to be honest. His knees are now hopefully okay, and they are fully capable of doing everything that turned him into the top player in his recruiting year and what earned him the biggest name in Duke’s top-ranked freshman class.

In my opinion, and I think everyone else can agree with this, Harry Giles wasn’t thinking basketball at the time at all. He WAS playing basketball. And if a clear-minded Giles suits up for the already red-hot Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament, the next three weeks could be very interesting! As solid as Luke Kennard has been all season with his shooting and defense, as free as Grayson Allen appears to be (you never know come game time), and as NBA-ready as Jayson Tatum is, Harry Giles playing like Harry Giles could be the tipping point between Duke being good and Duke being “BACK” and a national championship contender/threat level.

The Letdown

It was fair, until a pretty solid ACC tourney, to wonder whether Giles’ time to shine would ever come out at Duke. Even the way Coach K recently sounded almost reconciled to the idea that the Harry Giles’ “moment to shine” would probably appear only after he donned an NBA uniform. Others had come to that conclusion long before Coach K did. Giles more specifically had to overcome a torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus tear to the left knee in 2013 and an ACL tear in his other knee in 2015. There have been plenty of people pausing and thinking about Giles’ future, and for good reason too. With little more than one competitive high school season under his belt, could he really be the best player in the nation’s freshman class…?

Krzyzewski was intentionally cautious with Giles, refusing to announce a timetable for his return. He was also steadfast in his declaration to not jeopardize Giles’ professional future after his college career. But early on, Coach K was optimistic that as the season progressed, so too would Giles. It wasn’t until his third procedure on his knee that things really changed and started to look bad for Harry. The surgery itself wasn’t terribly invasive, an arthroscopic cleanout of his left knee that revealed a particle block on his rehab, but it stopped Giles’ progress in its tracks. Instead of inching forward, Giles was back to the very beginning and even more down in the dumps that he had to start from day 1 again.

He wouldn’t play his first game until Dec. 19 (obviously longer than he hoped), which was a mere four-minute showing where he only managed one shot and no points or other stats. Krzyzewski, the man himself, kept the kid’s gloves on, pushing Giles to improve but respecting that his journey was strenuous as he went through a bunch of obstacles. It was impossible to not feel for the kid, to watch a player who was supposed to dominate the game, come off the bench in fits, and get into the starting five not as often as he hoped. It honestly pained me, and even more so pained Giles and Duke fans to see a once overpowering athlete struggle to get noticed.

In truth, he was struggling overall early on. For the entirety of his basketball career, Giles hasn’t merely been a starter; he has been a standout star. He was no doubt a 23-point and 15-rebound producer in high school, while also an 11-point, 8-rebound generator in 16 games for USA Basketball, with three gold medals to show for his efforts. He clearly he know’s what he is doing and how to produce. Now on the college stage, he had his best game when he put up 10-points and 12-rebounds in a rout against Georgia Tech. But the worse thing was that nothing lasted, and by that I mean after that game he hadn’t again scored double-digit points in game this season after that week. He was very inconsistent, for example, he played 19 minutes against Louisville, scoring 7 points and grabbing 6 rebounds followed by only 8 minutes, 2 points and 3 rebounds against Miami. Obviously not consistent one bit, and I’m sure Coach K and himself were annoyed with what was happening.

The Turnaround

Finally some good news. A week before the ACC tournament began, with Giles’ time at Duke diminishing, Krzyzewski threw down a challenge for the freshman. Giles is a 6-11 human emoji and by that I mean he doesn’t merely brighten a room when he walks into it; he owns it. Krzyzewski didn’t care about his production on the court as much, he really cared about Giles’ well-being. He wanted his emoji back to light up that team. Coach K even said “Like, you’re the most enthusiastic kid I’ve ever been around, and you’re not bringing your enthusiasm. That was never hurt. But I think you’re not using it.”

That’s when thing’s changed, maybe it was the Krzyzewski pep talk. Maybe it was the memory of the North Carolina student section chanting “Overrated” when Giles stepped to the free throw line in the last regular-season game between the two teams. (This chant actually prompted exasperated UNC coach Roy Williams to shout, “Stop that s—.”)! Or maybe it was simply the recognition that time is no longer on his side and he needs to turn his game around now….

Whatever it was I would like to know what it was because the Giles who came to Brooklyn for the ACC tournament was completely different. Which takes us to a super 62-second explosion against North Carolina. The Blue Devils had just crawled all the way back against the Tar Heels when Duke’s Jason Tatum was whistled for his fourth foul. The freshman (Tatum) went to the bench, alongside Amile Jefferson, who also had four. Now enter Harry Giles! He blocked Justin Jackson at the rim on one end and threw down an alley-oop pass from Allen at the other, both showing off Giles’ explosiveness and speed to which he had gained back.

To go more in depth with his most recently noted outburst against North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals which basically shook away the last of the Heels and put some icing on the cake. This is how the play-by-play reads with about five and a half minutes remaining in the game:
5:37 — Harry Giles block
5:31 — Harry Giles made dunk, assisted by Grayson Allen
5:19 — Harry Giles steal

He brought the Blue Devil fans and players out of their seats and tore the roof of the place as they all erupted in applause. Check out that emphatic block, which was one of four blocks in that game and the SLAM down at the other end. To see Giles’ transformation, especially against a very good Tar Heels team was surprising to see and put a smile on my face. Like I stated before, if Giles can return to his old form WATCH OUT for those Blue Devils!

It was the steal at 5:19 that Giles had as Justin Jackson tried to enter the ball from beneath the basket, crashing to the ground as he tipped the ball out toward Grayson Allen that mattered most. Because in that frantic moment, Harry Giles didn’t think about the three times he’d been wheeled into an operating room to having devastating surgery. He didn’t think about the brace still protecting his right knee for cautionary reasons. He didn’t think about how he wasn’t a starter anymore. He didn’t think about how many minutes he plays or how many points he’s scored. In that instant, Harry Giles didn’t think at all. He just played the game he loves.