Since I was in high school, making the NBA felt really close and really far away. It basically depended on when you asked me. I’ve had some injuries, obviously. I’ve had to learn to be patient. Even right now, I’m here in Sacramento, on an NBA roster, and I still have to be patient.
Overall, though, I’ve got no regrets. The injuries — those were things I couldn’t control. But otherwise there’s not a lot I would go back and do over.
Well, maybe one.
There was one tweet.
You see, I’ve been to Sacramento before, in 2014. I was 16 years old, a sophomore at Wesleyan Christian Academy in North Carolina. I was bored one day at the gym during a travel tournament with my AAU team. I wasn’t playing. (I’ll get to why in a minute). As I figured out the hard way, boredom plus the open Twitter app was a disaster waiting to happen.
Yeah, I know … not great! Now that I’m back in Sacramento for training camp with the Kings, I’m thinking about that tweet again. To Sacramento, I apologize for saying something that I didn’t really know anything about.
I was just so frustrated that I couldn’t play. I remember that feeling to this day. I was restless, just watching all the games on the bench in my street clothes. I remember being in my hotel room a lot that weekend – with Twitter open, or I’d be staring at my phone just checking my feed. I didn’t know Sacramento as a city from any other city. All I was seeing was the area around my hotel and the gym. And around there? There wasn’t much to do and nothing to eat. (Listen, In-N-Out is solid, but it’s no Cook Out. Trust me on that.)
So you can maybe see how my tweet went down. Boredom, frustration and Twitter — man, that’s a recipe for disaster.
It looks dumb now, believe me, I know that. But you know what? I definitely learned a few things.
For one, you just never know where you’re going to end up. So it’s good to keep an open mind, wherever you are. Easier to say than to do sometimes.
I was having a hard time in that period of my life. I don’t think I fully realized it then, but it’s obvious now. I was rehabbing for the first time in my life — I didn’t know what might be on the other side. Not playing basketball, the sport I had been obsessed with since I turned eight, was eating me apart. Basketball was my identity. Suddenly I didn’t have that.
You just never know where you’re going to end up.
One of my coaches at Duke, Jon Scheyer, once said, “Nobody’s gone through more than Harry.” It’s not exactly like that — I’ve had a good life, I’ve been blessed with a good family who has supported me even when recruiting and the attention got pretty crazy. (My mom in particular — she is my biggest cheerleader and has been by my side for absolutely everything.)
But talking strictly basketball, maybe there’s some truth to what Coach said. Before my 18th birthday, I went through two major leg injuries — first I tore my left ACL and MCL and then I tore my right ACL. Everything got thrown into chaos. A lot of people questioned my basketball future. At times, even I questioned how everything was going to play out.
In 2013, I was a happy 15-year-old going into my sophomore year of high school at Wesleyan Christian, in High Point, North Carolina. One day in the summer before school started, two huge things happened. I remember the day really well because the national high school basketball rankings were coming out. That morning I woke up to read that multiple outlets listed me as the No. 1 sophomore basketball player in the country.
It was everything I imagined it would be.
That very same day, I tore the ACL and MCL in my left knee in a USA Basketball game.
A lot for one day.
Immediately, I was plotting out how soon I could get back on the court. I heard that an ACL injury usually takes about a year to heal, give or take a few months. So I could be back, almost full-strength, for my junior and senior years of high school. I could show people that nothing had changed.
I could still get back to No. 1, I thought.
There’s plenty of time.
I did everything I was told to do. I rehabbed one to two hours every day for more than a year. I learned a lot things about my body. The ACL and MCL are the ligaments that hold your knee together, so, even as my knee began to heal, I lost a ton of my lower body strength because of inactivity. My quad had shriveled to nothing. My strength and speed were gone. I had to build everything up, and then also find a way to start trusting my body again once I made it back onto the court.
Looking back now, there was one fortunate thing about it — and it’s that I didn’t know how much rehab I was headed for. Because If I had known, at age 16? I might not have been equipped to deal with the pain and work that it actually took.
It was slow, but at some point, I started to feel like the old Harry again.
I got close to something like full strength during my junior year. I had finally started to trust that I could still be the player I wanted to be, even with the injury. Toward the end of junior year and the first part of senior year — that’s when recruiting is at its height — lots of D-I college scouts were packing the stands at my games. I felt like I was back … but at the same time, in my head I could hear them wondering, Is Harry Giles still the player he used to be?
After a year of hard work, I bounced back — big time. I had offers from all the biggest and best programs in the country, and some of them were coming at me even harder than they were before my injury. When the high school prospect rankings came out before my senior season, I was back at No. 1. I have to admit, after everything I had gone through, it felt good.
I was everything I wanted to be, heading into a huge senior season that would — hopefully — be followed by a year at a top college program. I had decided to transfer to Oak Hill Academy, the best high school program in the country, for my senior season. I wanted to play a national schedule against the best competition. I wanted to prove myself in a way that no one could doubt.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Two minutes into our season opener of my senior year, I tore my ACL. Again. This time, it was my right knee.
Man, I thought the first rehab was hard.
I had no idea what I was about to go through.
It’s one thing to go through an injury like an ACL tear once, but the second time, you know exactly how hard recovery will be, and how low your spirits might go during that time. So the second time, the mental battle was just way, way tougher.
Once again, I had to ask myself some hard questions:
Am I capable of recovering from this injury … again?
Will I ever be the same player I was?
Actually, flip that.
Will I ever be the player I imagined I’d be?
After a while, I figured out that all of this anxiety would turn out to do more harm than good.
I started rehab … again. I missed my senior season. Luckily I still had interest from top programs.
I committed to Duke.
I figured that if I rehabbed like I had the last time, I could get back to where I wanted to be in time for the college season.
I was wrong about that.
Right as I got to Duke, my doctors said I would need a third surgery, this time an arthroscopic procedure on my left knee. Duke’s staff was extremely understanding — they gave me the option to sit and rehab as long as I needed, even if it meant that I didn’t suit up for my freshman season. They were behind me the whole way.
But I had my mind made up.
I told Coach K, “I didn’t come here not to play.”
I planned on getting out on that court as soon as possible.
That Duke team — we had a lot of hype surrounding us. Coach had brought in an incredible freshman class, including my guy Jayson Tatum from St. Louis, a guy I had gotten close with from our time on USA Basketball. People were ready to hand us the national championship before we even got on campus.
Because of the recent surgery, I wasn’t able to get out on the court right away with the guys. That killed me. There’s nothing like Cameron Indoor and I was dying to get out there. I was trying to focus on just being a freshman. But not being able to help my team prepare and practice was a tough adjustment. The fact is, I just wasn’t healthy when I was at Duke. That’s the way it was — something so far from what I imagined it would be.
I was thinking to myself, playing part-time was harder than NOT playing at all, in my opinion.
That’s how frustrated I felt.
Again, it would take time. Playing became a nerve-wracking experience, but my confidence grew back day by day, and I knew I couldn’t let some frustrating performances at Duke undo what I had built. I didn’t get off to the start I wanted, but I felt like I was getting back to where I wanted to be.
Then time ran out at Duke. After getting some feedback that I’d be a first round pick, I decided to take the next step.
I went for it.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Not gonna lie — I’ll admit that I was worried when hearing all sorts of different things about my draft prospects. All people were talking about were my knees and not what kind of player I could be. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more nervous than June 22nd, 2017.
I ended up getting invited to the Green Room, but I decided to watch at home in Winston-Salem, with my family and my boys. The closer the draft got, the more and more nervous I became. I just wanted it to be over with. It felt like there was a ton of bricks on my back. I thought, Please God, just let me get picked so I can celebrate with all my family here and not look like an idiot.
Then I got picked. No. 20. Sacramento Kings.
First thing I thought after that initial rush of adrenaline?
Thank you Jesus.
The second thing?
I got some tweets to delete.
But the funny thing is, I got half of that tweet right! I was the happiest dude.
After I got picked, I was thrilled. It was such a relief, and I’m so glad I got to celebrate with the people who’ve always been there — that was the right decision. Coincidentally, as I’m processing this, I got a text right from CP3, a mentor to me and another guy from Winston-Salem. It said:
“Now we’re both in the NBA, representing the same city. You can get whatever you want if you set your mind to it.”
He signed off with this:
“Let’s go to work.”
That made me reflect on everything that happened up to then.
Everyone wants to go No. 1, but that’s just not the reality. Only one guy gets that and that guy, Markelle Fultz, absolutely deserved it. At the end of the day, I feel blessed to be in the NBA, no matter the pick. Because now I get the chance to prove myself, just like everyone else in my class.
I also realized something about hype — it’s never going to settle. It’s never going to go away. Since I was the No. 1 player in high school, there were always going to be articles that say I didn’t live up to expectations. At this point, I feel like I’ve been hearing that since I was 15 years old.
But here’s the thing — it’s basketball. Those kinds of comments and articles don’t matter as much as I thought. When people ask me why I don’t let criticism bother me, I say, Because it’s basketball. You know what I mean? I get to play the game I love every day. That’s the perspective I gained working through two ACL surgeries — I had to work to be the best player I could be and not worry about the other guys in my class. A lot of guys like to read into criticism and rankings, but if you keep reading all the negative commentary, it just kills you. You get wrapped up in it. It gets in your head. I used to really care about the rankings — it was a way to see how you stacked up, nationally. It was just a goal you set to see if you could get there. But eventually I learned that it’s all just noise that you can’t read too much into, or else you’ll constantly have those criticisms hanging over you.
The night of the draft, CP3 texted me another message that has also stuck with me. He told me, “Work hard, compete, and build on the foundation you’ve already laid.”
“After that,” he added. “Anything is possible.”
That’s when it hit me. My resolve is always going to have to come from within. Injuries and setbacks, those are up to God. But your goals, your dreams, your drive to rehab a major injury — all of that is in your control.
You see, I’ve always had a big imagination. As a kid I dreamed of hearing my name called on draft night, sure. But I also fantasized about being the guy who scores and hits the game-winning shot. I’d be the guy who makes back-to-back offensive and defensive plays to seal a game.
I dreamed of being a franchise player.
Sacramento, listen — I’m here to work toward being the player that I imagined. When I got picked 20th, I was so excited that I could come to a place like Sacramento where I could really develop. To me, 20th was like a lottery pick. Because it was a chance.
Now I’m a rookie, no more than that. I’m ready to start my new life here. Sacramento is a franchise committed to developing the young group we have, and I think there’s no better place for me to be. God knew exactly what he was doing, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m ready to show you what I’m about.
My story so far is about setbacks. I’ve been down before. I came back better. I went through it all at a young age, and I think it made my resolve stronger than I could ever imagine it being at age 19. Now I feel like I’m on a mission.
So what’s next for me? I can’t really predict. I guess you’re going to have to wait on that.
I wouldn’t want to spoil a good story.