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Harry Giles finally looks ready to play big role for Duke

Under the knife and over time, knees mend.

Psyches, though? Those take a little longer.

Harry Giles has been physically ready to play basketball for some time now. Certainly, his development as a collegiate player isn't where it would be if he hadn't been sidelined for two months because of his third knee surgery in four years.

But his knees are OK, fully capable of doing everything that turned him into the top player in his recruiting year, the biggest name in Duke's top-ranked freshman class.

He just needed to get his mind right.

"A lot of it's been mental," Giles said.

A 62-second outburst against North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals might have shaken away the last of the pesky cobwebs.

This is how the play-by-play reads:

5:37 -- Harry Giles block

5:31 -- Harry Giles made dunk, assisted by Grayson Allen

5:19 -- Harry Giles steal

This is how it looked: Harry Giles wasn't thinking basketball. He was playing basketball.

And if a clear-minded Giles suits up for the already red-hot Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament, the next three weeks could be very interesting.

As solid as Luke Kennard has been all season, as free as Grayson Allen appears, as NBA-ready as Jayson Tatum is, Harry Giles playing like Harry Giles could be the tipping point between Duke being good and Duke being a national championship threat.

"All year long, when I wasn't playing, coach said everybody would get their time to step up and win the game," Giles said. "That was my time. Now's my time."

It was fair, until that burst, to wonder whether Giles' time would ever come at Duke. Even coach Mike Krzyzewski recently sounded almost resigned to the idea that the Harry Giles everyone was waiting to see would probably appear only after he donned an NBA uniform.

Others had come to that conclusion long before. Two serious knee injuries -- an ACL, MCL and meniscus tear to the left knee in 2013 and an ACL tear to the right knee in 2015 -- had given plenty of people pause about Giles' future. With little more than one competitive high school season under his belt, could he really be the best player in the country?

Krzyzewski was intentionally cautious with Giles, refusing to announce a timetable, steadfast in his resolve to not jeopardize Giles' professional future. But early on, Coach K was optimistic that as the season progressed, so too would Giles.

It wasn't until a third procedure, announced suddenly and surprisingly on Oct. 4, that things really changed. The surgery itself wasn't terribly invasive, an arthroscopic cleanout of his left knee that revealed a particle impeding on his rehab, but it stopped Giles' progress in its tracks. Instead of inching forward, Giles was back to the beginning.

He wouldn't play his first game until Dec. 19, a mere four-minute cameo.

Krzyzewski kept the kid gloves on, pushing Giles to improve but respecting that his journey was arduous. It was impossible to not feel for the kid, to watch a player who was supposed to dominate the game come off the bench in fits and starts, to see a once overpowering athlete struggle to get noticed.

Giles said all the right things. He was feeling better and getting stronger. His confidence, he insisted, wasn't shaken by his delayed start.

In truth, he was struggling. For the entirety of his basketball career, Giles hasn't merely been a starter; he has been a star. A 23-point, 15-rebound producer in high school, Giles also was an 11-point, 8-rebound producer in 16 games for USA Basketball, with three gold medals to show for his efforts.

Now, finally on the biggest stage of his young career, he was a role player, adding what he could to the game but never dominating. His best game -- a 10-point, 12-rebound effort -- came in a rout against Georgia Tech. Worse, nothing lasted. Nineteen minutes, 7 points and 6 rebounds against Louisville led to 8 minutes, 2 points and 3 rebounds against Miami.

His teammates tried to buck him up. Allen, who has suffered his own crash of confidence after seeing his season go from national player of the year candidate to suspended outlaw to sixth man, talked to Giles frequently.

"I said, 'You might be playing limited minutes. You might feel like a role player, but you're not,' " Allen said. " 'You're extremely talented, and when you get out there, act like it. Don't be shy. Don't be trying to play into a role. Do what you can do.' "

Finally, a week before the ACC tournament began, with Giles' time at Duke dwindling, Krzyzewski threw down a challenge.

Giles is a 6-11 human emoji. He does not merely brighten a room when he walks into it; he owns it. Krzyzewski didn't care about points. He didn't ask for rebounds.

He wanted his emoji back.

"I said, 'You didn't get an ACL on your enthusiasm,' " Krzyzewski said. "Like, you're the most enthusiastic kid I've ever been around, and you're not bringing your enthusiasm. That was never hurt. But I think you're not using it."

Maybe it was the Krzyzewski pep talk. Maybe it was the memory of North Carolina students chanting "Overrated" when Giles stepped to the free throw line in the last regular-season game between the two teams. (The chant prompted exasperated UNC coach Roy Williams to shout, "Stop that s---.")

Or maybe it was simply the realization that time is no longer on his side.

Whatever, the Giles who came to Brooklyn for the ACC tournament was different.

"Play 40 minutes in 15," is the way Giles summarized his new approach.

Which takes us back to that 62-second spurt against North Carolina. The Blue Devils had just crawled all the way back against the Tar Heels when Duke's Tatum was whistled for his fourth foul. The freshman went to the bench, alongside Amile Jefferson, who also had four.

Enter Giles. He blocked Justin Jackson at the rim on one end and threw down an alley-oop pass from Allen at the other, both showing off Giles' explosiveness.

It was the steal -- Giles dove as Jackson tried to enter the ball from beneath the basket, crashing to the ground as he tipped the ball out toward Allen -- that mattered most.

Because in that frantic moment, Harry Giles didn't think about the three times he'd been wheeled into an operating room. He didn't think about the brace still protecting his right knee. He didn't think that he was no longer a starter. He didn't think about how many minutes he played or how many points he'd scored.

In that second, Harry Giles didn't think at all.

He just played basketball.