The college basketball world has been waiting years for Friday’s announcement from power forward Harry Giles III. The best high school player in the country revealed on ESPN’s SportsCenter that he will attend Duke. Giles chose the Blue Devils over Kansas, Kentucky and Wake Forest. “I felt like Duke was the place for me," Giles said after slipping on a blue Duke baseball cap. "Every time I go to Duke it feels like home, every time I sit down and talk to Coach K, it’s just—it’s a special feeling.”
Giles is the crown jewel of a recruiting class that’s considered among the best in recent memory, and he is a prime contender to be the top selection in the 2017 NBA draft. Though he was identified as a special talent before he reached high school, Giles’s rise to stardom was delayed by a serious injury (he suffered another knee injury this week; more on that below). As a member of the USA Basketball Under 16 team participating in the FIBA Americas in Uruguay in June of 2013, Giles, then 15, tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee. The Winston-Salem, N.C., native underwent surgery that summer and sat out his sophomore season.
By that point, Giles was already viewed as a transcendent talent, a national recruit with tantalizing pro potential bound to rake in scholarship offers from the nation’s top programs. Yet he missed out on the competition, development and exposure his class peers enjoyed during that year of rehabilitation. Giles did not return to action until May 2014, at an Elite Youth Basketball Event in Virginia. It didn’t take long for Giles to remind everyone how good he is. He shined at the EYBL’s marquee event that July, the Peach Jam, even though he was wearing a brace and estimated he was playing “between 85-90%.”
After a strong summer with his grassroots program, Team CP3 (N.C.), Giles led Wesleyan Christian (N.C.) Academy to a 30-5 record while averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. In February, he cut his list of schools to eight: Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Ohio State and UNLV. It wasn’t long before Giles figured prominently in arguments over who deserved to be ranked the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2016. Giles, Prolific Prep (Calif.) Academy shooting guard Josh Jackson or Chaminade (Mo.) Prep small forward Jayson Tatum are in the running for that top spot.
Giles made a compelling case—if not settled the debate outright—this summer. He was the main attraction at the Peach Jam and finished his final year on the EYBL circuit with averages of 18 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 blocks over 23 games while shooting 54.4% from the field. He also proved himself against top international competition. As a 17-year-old facing players two years older than him, Giles recorded five consecutive double-doubles, averaged 14.0 points and 10.6 rebounds, made a big impact defensively while leading Team USA to a gold medal at the FIBA Under 19 World Championship in Crete.
By that point, most of the fans and media who’d spent months tossing around pro comparisons and marveling at Giles’ potential capacity to diversify his game had shifted their attention to his college choice. This was a natural reaction to Tatum’s announcement at the Peach Jam that month that he would sign with Duke. Giles told Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn that Tatum is his “best friend” and said playing together in college is “most definitely something we talk about.” Tatum offered a similar response when asked about the package deal possibility in an interview a few days before he made public his college choice.
In late July, Giles tweeted that he would transfer from Wesleyan Christian to national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.. That announcement came less than two weeks after he narrowed his list of college programs to five: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky North Carolina and Wake Forest. Giles ended up taking official visits to all of those programs except North Carolina. His first trip was to Wake Forest, followed by stops at Kansas, Kentucky and Duke on Halloween weekend. Less than a week later, early in his first game at Oak Hill, Giles tore the ACL in his right knee. He’ll sit out the rest of his senior season.
“I’ll bounce back, and I’ll be fine,” Giles said Friday.
Listed at 6'10" and 220 pounds, Giles is renowned for his athleticism, vast offensive skill set and defensive versatility. He crashes the glass, knocks down jump shots, attacks the basket, finishes well in the paint, delivers smart passes, protects the rim, excels in ball-screen coverage and can match up with centers and power forwards. In an age in which positional conventions are in flux, Giles need not be defined by anything other than his sheer ability. He contributes in a variety of capacities on both ends of the floor, a two-way force with massive upside, and his game is so layered so as to be compatible in all manner of frontcourt pairings.
Rivals.com currently ranks Giles as the No. 2 player in the class of 2016 (two other major services have him at No. 1), behind Jackson, while the scouting website DraftExpress projects Giles as the 2017 draft’s No. 2 pick in its latest mock. “One of the truly elite prospects in the junior class, Giles is a hybrid four man who can do a little bit of everything,” Eric Bossi, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, wrote of Giles. “He has length and athleticism around the rim that allows him to score in tight quarters. He runs the floor extremely well, is an outstanding passer—particularly in transition—and is an above average rebounder with a great frame to build on.”
Giles would be the clear-cut headliner for virtually any program’s recruiting class in any year. For Duke in 2016, he’s surrounded by players with similar credentials. Rivals.com currently ranks Tatum the No. 3 player in the country. Frank Jackson, a point guard out of Lone Peak (Utah) High, checks in at No. 10. And St. Anne’s-Belfield (Va.) School power forward Javin DeLaurier is No. 41. At No. 2, Giles is the most highly regarded prospect in the class, but there’s not a lot of separation; this is a deep, talented group featuring multiple projected lottery picks and touting A-Listers in the backcourt, on the wing and the blocks.
Assuming Giles regains his form after recovering from the latest knee injury, he should slide into Duke’s starting lineup right away. Veteran forwards Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee will move on after this season, but the Blue Devils are set to add DeLaurier and could well bring back Chase Jeter, a five-star big man in the class of 2015. That would constitute a talented, though young, frontcourt duo, around which Duke could rotate a potent cast of perimeter players including junior Matt Jones, five-star point guard recruit Derryck Thornton, five-star shooting guard recruit Luke Kennard, Tatum and Jackson.
It’s difficult to project Duke’s rotation a year in advance because of the possibility that players will leave for the NBA. At this point, it seems possible that both five-star small forward Brandon Ingram—whom DraftExpress currently projects as the No. 3 pick in 2016—and rising sophomore/national championship game hero Grayson Allen will enter the draft. But could Thornton join them? Whoever decides to stick around will join forces with an immensely talented recruiting class highlighted by Giles. Blue Devils supporters no doubt are focused on this upcoming season, but you can’t blame them for getting excited about 2016-17.