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Brooklyn Nets big man Harry Giles III taking nothing for granted in his NBA return

The 2017 first-round pick returns to basketball as a contributor to the Nets’ ‘team environment’

DALLAS – During pregame on Oct. 27, Harry Giles III worked out long before most of his Brooklyn Nets teammates for a contest he would not play in. A smiling Giles was in no rush to leave to the locker room. He preferred to enjoy the arena’s atmosphere, a basketball in his hands on the bench while reacquainting himself with old friends.

Being away from the NBA, starting a trucking company to help himself financially and not having a guaranteed contract with the Nets has given the big man that appreciation to be in the moment.

“It’s different this time around,” Giles told Andscape before the Nets’ 125-120 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. “I ain’t taking nothing for granted. I’m enjoying seeing the fans walk in. I’m enjoying the work before the game. I missed everything about it. The camaraderie. The politicking and talking to good guys.

“There are some good guys in this league, on and off the court and in the front office. You will be amazed about what you see and the people you can meet just watching pregame warmups.”

From left to right: Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Josh Jackson and Marques Bolden of the USA Junior Select Team take a photo before the game against the World Select Team during the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit on April 9, 2016, at the MODA Center Arena in Portland, Oregon.

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

It wasn’t that long ago that Giles was more highly regarded than Boston Celtics star forward Jayson Tatum.

The Winston-Salem, North Carolina, native was ranked the No. 1 high school player by ESPN in 2016 over the likes of future NBA All-Stars Tatum, Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox. Giles was also mentored by Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul and played for his AAU program. The former Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) star announced live on ESPN that he would be attending Duke University before his senior season in high school.

“He was good. Very athletic. Excellent footwork in the post area. Could run the floor. Had bounce. Tremendous upside,” said former NBA executive Scott Perry, who now is an NBA analyst for ESPN.

Two minutes into Giles’ first game as a senior with Oak Hill, however, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. He previously tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee while playing for USA Basketball in the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.

“I was 16 years old. I didn’t have no money. It’s tough losing that [top] position knowing what it can lead up and build up to,” Giles reflected. “You know how the NBA game goes. It was just the card I was dealt.”

At Duke as a freshman, Giles had a third knee surgery on Oct. 3, 2016, and missed his first 11 games. The 6-foot-11 forward/center entered the 2017 NBA draft after averaging just 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game as a freshman. Giles was selected with the 20th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft before his draft rights were traded to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings redshirted him for the entire the 2017-18 season with hopes that he could strengthen his body with time spent on rehabilitation.

“I followed him through high school and he was one of the top players in the nation,” said Perry, who was vice president of the Kings at the time. “Unfortunately, the knee injuries robbed him of some of his time. Good guy to be around. Extremely talented. We had a plan to bring him along at the right pace. We thought it was worth taking the chance at the 20th pick. He was a top-10 talent. He definitely was a lottery talent even given his injury.”

Giles averaged 7.0 points and 3.8 rebounds during the 2018-19 season and spent time playing for the G League Stockton Kings. On Oct. 31, 2019, however, the Kings declined his $4 million option for the 2020-21 season. A Sacramento fan favorite, Giles became a free agent after averaging 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds during 2019-2020 season.

Giles signed as a free agent with the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 22, 2020, but played sparingly, averaging 2.8 points per game during 38 games. The LA Clippers signed Giles him to a non-guaranteed contract for the 2021-22 season, but he was beaten out for the final roster spot by Isaiah Hartenstein and found out during a phone call from his agent while having lunch.

“I had a feeling it was going to happen,” Giles said. “Not because I didn’t think I played good. But if you make it, you know a little bit sooner and you are more confident about what is going on. When I got that call I wanted to be upset, but I knew it was going to happen.”

Sacramento Kings forward/center Harry Giles III before the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Aug. 6, 2020, at The HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

With no NBA contract offer in 2021, he signed to play in the G League for the Agua Caliente Clippers with a salary of $37,500. Giles played for Agua Caliente in the G League Showcase in front of all 30 NBA teams in December 2021, but didn’t get signed by a team. The Agua Caliente waived him on Jan. 23, 2022, due to “a season-ending injury.”

“Before, I was just in the G League on assignment,” Giles said. “It was different being there full time on that salary. It made me dig deep into how deep I wanted it.”

Giles didn’t play pro basketball during the 2022-23 season and said not being in the NBA was painful. He missed simple things like, “not going to shoot around and practice every day, not getting in the cold tub, getting treatment, getting the free food every day. You don’t take those things for granted once it’s taken away from you.” Giles said he “applied more love” to basketball in his absence, continued to work out regularly in North Carolina, Los Angeles and Miami and engaged in lots of prayer. Paul and Tatum continued to also give Giles positive words of wisdom.

Meanwhile, Giles started thinking about life after basketball and how to “maximize his dollars.” So, he started a trucking company called Lee G Logistics LLC that offers an interstate freight carrier with an 18-wheeler truck and a full time driver based out of Lewisville, North Carolina. He plans to purchase more trucks and hire more drivers.

“The money started slowing down,” Giles said. “I had more downtime … I started to try to figure out what else I could do and dig into it. I’m not saying it is something I want to do full time, but I want it to be part of my résumé …

“We are out of North Carolina. So, any of you truck drivers out of North Carolina, get with me. We are going to span all around the Southeast.”

Giles returned to Sacramento to sit courtside and see the Kings play in their first postseason appearance in 17 years in the first round against the Golden State Warriors. He couldn’t walk anywhere in Golden 1 Center in Sacramento without receiving some well wishes and love from Kings fans. More inspiration to return to work to get back to the NBA was gained.

“I can’t even put into words my gratitude and appreciation for my time and the fans in Sacramento,” Giles said. “Those were some of the best days of my life. That was my best NBA experience so far. I loved it there.”

Giles scored 42 points in the Miami Pro League last summer. He had a private free agent workout in Las Vegas and worked out for the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz. Giles also took part in the Nets’ free agent minicamp in August at their practice facility.

Impressed with Giles’ professionalism, work ethic and skills, Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks signed him to a non-guaranteed Exhibit 10 contract on Sept. 6.

“We brought in the usual bunch of guys that we may bring into camp,” Marks said. “From there, he shot out and got the camp invite.”

Brooklyn Nets forward/center Harry Giles III (right) shoots in an exhibition game against Maccabi Ra’anana at Barclays Center on Oct. 12 in New York City.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Marks acknowledged that Giles entered Nets training camp as a dark horse to make the roster. Giles, however, showed he was still capable of performing well by logging 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds in the Nets’ second preseason game against Maccabi Ra’anana at Israel. Marks was impressed with Giles’ shooting ability, and the Nets’ performance team also was convinced he was healthy.

After the preseason game in Miami on Oct. 18, Marks told Giles he made the regular-season roster. Giles showed his appreciation and excitement by bear-hugging the 6-10 Marks. And after putting Marks down, Giles had to break the good news to his mother that he had landed a one-year, $2.165 million contract to return to the NBA.

“I’ve never been bear-hugged and lifted off the floor,” Marks said.

Said Giles: “You can’t get too high or too low. But at the same time, I had to pat myself on the back because that was a tough road to get through. A lot of guys would have quit and not made it through. But God had the Brooklyn Nets on my side.”

Giles averaged 5.0 points and 1.0 rebound in four games entering Wednesday’s road contest against the Phoenix Suns. He has been mentoring Nets rookie forward Dariq Whitehead, who also played at Duke. The Nets have a deadline of Jan. 10 to guarantee Giles’ contract for the rest of the season or waive him.

It’s a business. But considering the positive impact Giles has had on the Nets, it certainly would be tough for them to let him go.

“When you get a guy like Harry in your environment, he is an easy guy to root for,” Marks said. “It’s as simple as that. The way he conducts himself. True professional. He works really hard. Diligent in his craft both on the floor and behind the scenes. He just needs to stay healthy, and that has been the biggest issue for him the whole time …

“He adds to the team environment. That’s important. You never know when you’re going to get called upon. But he’s good emotional support for our entire locker room.”

Giles is only 25 years old with lots of basketball and life left. So, what can be learned from his basketball career so far?

“Just stay patient. I know people always want to question their path and question why things go the way they go,” Giles said. “Sometimes you got to just keep living to just see how it goes. Don’t question everything. Sometimes you just trust what is going on in life and go with it. That’s what I did at this point.

“I’ve been hurt a few times. Waived from teams. Didn’t make teams. But you got to keep living. Sometimes you feel like things aren’t getting better and there is no green light or daylight ahead of you. But you got to keep pushing until you see it.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.