With 7 minutes and 45 seconds left in the first half, Harry Giles reclaimed a seat on Duke’s bench.
He wiped his face with a towel after playing 4 minutes in his college debut against a feisty Tennessee State Monday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. His thoughts were plenty: college ball is fast, gotta get back to myself, should’ve shot with more confidence.
Likely the most anticipated moment for Duke basketball this season was brief but enough.
Giles, who hadn’t played basketball competitively in 13 months after a season-ending ACL tear his senior year at Oak Hill Academy, just needed to get out there. The freshman forward and top recruit of 2016 was recovering from an Oct. 3 knee scope; he had only begun practicing against contact a couple of weeks ago.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Giles after Duke’s 65-55 win over Tennessee State said his intention this season was always to get back on the floor.
“No, I love the game,” one of the top NBA draft prospects said in response to the speculation that he may not play at all this season. “My whole goal was getting back on the court.”
The 6-10, 240-pound Giles shed his gray warmup T-shirt and came off the bench after the 12-under timeout, Duke clinching a slim 10-8 lead. Fourteen seconds later, his first college touch was a missed jumper. Duke shot a season-low 28 percent in the first half, when it led by no more than four points.
Giles played with a brace wrapped around his left knee and did not score in his short debut.
“For Harry just to go on the court tonight is good,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s ready, it’s just a matter of him being in shape. He has to fit in, and he will.”
Knee injuries have been a bit too common for Giles, who missed his sophomore year at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point due to a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus. After the partial ACL tear in his senior-season opener at Oak Hill Academy, where he was supposed to play his last year of high school, he declared for Duke.
Giles admitted that he feared he may get re-injured after his first one, a mentality he said probably cost him. The Winston-Salem native said Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who is also from Winston-Salem and played at Wake Forest, told him to trust his rehab and trust his body; Giles tested his knee with tough practices before he was ready for game action.
“You can’t worry about stuff like that,” Giles said. “Really, just gotta play. You can’t worry about getting hurt again. Your mind is powerful.”
Giles didn’t mince words about his four-minute appearance. He called it terrible, and it was clear he was overthinking.
The last time Giles played a complete season, he averaged 23.9 points and 12.5 rebounds as a junior for Wesleyan.
“It was different,” Giles said. “It’s college now. It’s not like it’s’ high school, something I’m already used to playing. First game, that was just shaking the rust off and getting the kinks out. I think each day, each game, each practice, I’ll get better, so just trying to improve everyday.”
Duke (11-1) plays Elon (7-4) at Greensboro Coliseum Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan