Next Cats: Despite bad knee injury, nobody losing interest in 2016 UK target Giles

broberts@herald-leader.comJuly 22, 2014 

On another continent playing the game he loved, Harry Giles experienced something that no 15-year-old should.

The elite basketball prospect was in Uruguay with the Team USA under-16 squad competing for a FIBA Americas championship last summer when he went down in a heap.

Giles — a 6-foot-9 power forward from North Carolina — tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. He was 5,000 miles from home and acutely aware that his young basketball career had just hit a major obstacle.

His friend and Team USA teammate Jayson Tatum was Giles' roommate in Uruguay at the time of the injury.

"You could tell he was really down," Tatum said. "It was just the second game of the (tournament) and we had worked so hard to get there.

"We really just had to keep encouraging him. Hurting his knee, he knew he was going to be out for a year or so."

Giles was comforted by his teammates and coaches while overseas, and he received words of encouragement from the many college coaches who were recruiting him when he returned to the United States.

One of those coaches was Kentucky's John Calipari.

"He said I'm going to bounce back," Giles said. "That it's nothing to me — a small thing to a giant."

It's been a long year, but the "giant" has returned.

He came back to the court in May at the Nike stop in Virginia, where he played limited minutes and struggled to live up to his own lofty standards. He's progressed in the two months since, getting a little stronger, feeling a little bit more like himself with every tournament and camp.

"The first tournament, I did what I did, but at the same time it was still a struggle," he said. "But now I'm starting to get more comfortable. I've got more confidence. I'm starting to get my versatility back.

"Confidence is everything. You've got to have faith in it that it won't tear again, and that you're not going to get hurt. You've got to have a good mindset, straight-up positive vibes." national analyst Evan Daniels evaluated Giles last week at the Nike Peach Jam, and he said that jump in confidence has been notable since the player's return earlier this year.

"He was moving fine and he was aggressive," Daniels said. "I thought Harry competed and he showed some flashes of why everybody thought he was as good as he was.

"He's back on track. And he has the chance to be the prospect that everybody thought he was going to be before he got hurt."

Giles was considered the No. 1 player in the class of 2016 by — and just about every other recruiting service — before he was injured.

Scout unveiled an "Ultimate 100" list last year that ranked the best high school players in the country regardless of class. Giles came in at No. 2 on that list — behind only Duke's Jahlil Okafor — despite just wrapping up his freshman season.

He's one of the youngest players to receive a scholarship offer from Calipari since he's been at UK, and Duke and North Carolina have been battling over him for years.

It's not hard to see why. When he's healthy, Giles can be nearly unstoppable.

"It comes down to his size, versatility and what he can do with the basketball," Daniels said. "He can score in a variety of ways. He can play inside and out. He runs the floor well, he's athletic. And we're saying all of those things about a 6-9 kid. He brings a lot to the table."

Giles still has two years of high school left, and he's not yet feeling 100 percent. His immediate focus will be on getting back to where he was and then working harder to improve his game from there.

That doesn't mean he's turning a blind eye to the recruiting process.

Calipari, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski were among the many coaches who watched him play multiple times last week at the Peach Jam in South Carolina.

Giles acknowledged the pressure that he'll feel to stay in North Carolina, but he said it won't be a factor in his decision. He also said he didn't grow up rooting for the Tar Heels or the Blue Devils, so he has no sentimental ties to either in-state power.

"I was a bandwagon (fan)," he said. "Just hopped from a whole lot of teams."

Giles has already been to Lexington once, for last October's Big Blue Madness. Tatum — a St. Louis native — joined his friend for that trip and the two have talked about playing together in college.

It's too early to tell if that will come to pass, but Giles is already forming an opinion of Calipari and the Wildcats. So far, the reviews are glowing.

"(He's a) great coach. He wants the best for you at all times," Giles said. "Just to see the players he's had and the things they say about him — they like him. You know, it's a good look."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog:

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