Man on Fire
This article was published in the April edition of SchoolSports magazine prior to CJ Giles' request for release from his commitment to the University of Miami, which came in the wake of the firing of head coach Perry Clark. Click here for the latest news on Giles
Rainier Beach High head basketball coach Mike Bethea recalls the precise moment he realized 6-foot-11, 235-pound senior center C.J. Giles was going to be big time. It was the fifth game of Giles' junior season.
The place? The 2002 KMOX Shootout in St. Louis. The opponent? Highly regarded West Aurora High of Illinois.
Bethea, a 10-year veteran at the Vikings' helm, remembers it like it was yesterday. Mostly because Giles wasn't supposed to be the star. Twins Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart (now freshmen at USC) were Rainier Beach's main men.
"C.J. was the dominant player on the floor — even with the Stewart twins there," says Bethea, a former Franklin High and Central Washington forward. "He scored 13 points, had 13 rebounds and seven blocks in 23 minutes even though he was in foul trouble. I do remember thinking that was the game he established himself."
Giles, who's rated the nation's No. 91 overall hoop recruit in the Class of 2004 by SchoolSports.com, is even more established now. At the conclusion of this season — in which he helped lead the two-time defending state champion Vikings (26-3) back to the Class 3A state title game — Giles was named co-MVP of the Metro League along with O'Dea High junior point guard Mitch Johnson, whose squad ended Beach's championship reign with a thrilling double-overtime victory over the Vikings in the state finals in March.
What's even more remarkable than Giles' performance in St. Louis or the fact that the Vikings went 52-6 with him in a varsity uniform is that this season — his MVP season in which he averaged 21 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks per game — was just his second varsity campaign.
Giles, who signed with the University of Miami this past fall, didn't even start playing organized basketball until his freshman year. He spent his ninth-grade season in a junior high program at Illahee Middle School and, because of a state ruling requiring him to sit out a year after transferring districts, played on the JV team at Rainier Beach as a sophomore, averaging 20 points and 20 rebounds in 20 minutes per game against outclassed competition.
"He's the classic story of the acorn that turned into a big oak," says Bethea, who has led Rainier Beach to the state finals the past four years and has won three state titles with the Vikings (1998, '02 and '03). "When he got here, he was like a baby giraffe. He was skinny and all over the place. Now, to look at his athleticism and how comfortable he is out there as a 6-11 kid, it's extraordinary."
At the end of the day, it's not entirely shocking. After all, Giles' dad, Chester, was a reserve forward his junior and senior years at the University of Kansas from 1978-80 under former National Coach of the Year Ted Owens. So it's safe to say there's a little bit of basketball IQ around the house.
Still, it seems the nuts and bolts of the game are what have rubbed off on C.J., which stands for Chester Jaral. Or at least the blue-collar attitude. Fact is, Giles enjoys D-ing up more than he likes high-percentage shots.
"I rely mainly on my defense," says Giles, 18, who had 21 points and 16 rebounds in the state title game loss to O'Dea. "Blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, timing my jumps. That's just the way I feel. I like blocking a shot even better than getting a dunk."
The cerebral approach Giles takes extends beyond the hardwood. It's irresistible to prod him, for example, about why he chose Miami given that programs like UNC, UConn, Kansas, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and USC also recruited him aggressively.
"Being the type of student I am, I can't function in a typical college class of 100 students," says Giles, who maintains that he's committed to Miami despite rumors that he might reconsider if embattled Hurricanes coach Perry Clark is fired. "Class size was a major part of my decision. Miami is more involved with me as a student, and that's going to help me a lot."
So he's telling us he placed the fate of his student-athlete future in a student-teacher ratio?
"Well, I'll get some great looks in the ACC from the pros," he says, referring to Miami's impending move from the Big East to the ACC. "That was on my mind, too."
It's rather amusing to hear what else weighs on his mind these days. Especially considering he held his own last summer at the adidas Big Time Tournament while matching up against the AAU Atlanta Celtics' NBA-size frontline of 6-foot-11 center Dwight Howard, 6-foot-11 center Randolph Morris and 6-foot-9 forward Josh Smith — all potential NBA draft picks this summer — as a member of Seattle's Rotary Select squad.
You see, Giles doesn't worry about monsters like that at the next level. He's worried about the crowds. And considering he comes from a school with a student population of less than 700, his concern is almost understandable. Almost.
"I'm most nervous about the crowds," admits Giles, whose younger brother, Malcolm, a sophomore swingman at Todd Beamer High, and father (C.J.'s parents are divorced) plan to move to Miami to join him. "I'm not nervous about playing and competing. I feel I can step into any level and compete. Even against guys like Kevin Garnett. You just have to adjust and rise to that level. But I'm nervous about all those people."
No one is suggesting, of course, that C.J. Giles is ready to school the Big Ticket. But the ceiling on this kid, well, there may not be one.
"He's still a typical high school kid in that you have to push him and get on him sometimes because he's being a little lazy," says Bethea. "But once he understands what it is that needs to be done, he goes after it. The thing I love about him is that he's a competitor. You never have to worry about him showing up for big games."
Given the fact that his first collegiate campaign will be only his third varsity season at any level, you can consider Giles way ahead of any game, especially the one he's beginning to master.