It's a waiting game for Duke's Harry Giles

Editor's note: The 2016-17 college basketball season will be the "Year of the Freshmen," featuring what could be the best class we've ever seen. Over the next two weeks, we will get familiar with the best of the best, examining who they are and where each of the top 10 prospects in the 2016 ESPN 100 came from.

Read more: No. 10 Duke's Frank Jackson | No. 9 Kentucky's Malik Monk
No. 8 Michigan State's Miles Bridges | No. 7 Washington's Markelle Fultz
No. 6 Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox | No. 5 Kentucky's Bam Adebayo
No. 4 UCLA's Lonzo Ball | No. 3 Duke's Jayson Tatum
No. 2 Kansas' Josh Jackson | No. 1 Duke's Harry Giles

DURHAM, N.C. -- How's Harry? Is he getting better?

When will Harry be back?

For a little more than a month now, since his top-rated freshman underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has answered some version of those three questions. Krzyzewski patiently answers the first two. But the last one? That one he finds slightly irritating.

"We all get accustomed to saying things that, if we analyze them, aren't appropriate,'' Krzyzewski said. "When is he coming back? Well, coming back to what?"

Krzyzewski has a point with his semantics breakdown. Giles technically has yet to arrive on the college basketball stage. He has never participated in a five-on-five practice at Duke, much less appeared in a game. He hasn't suited up, in fact, for more than a year now.

So no, Harry Giles isn't coming back. He's simply trying to get here.

GILES WAS ALWAYS going to be something of a preseason enigma. Rated the top player in his class, Giles' worth came with an asterisk. Both of his knees have been surgically repaired, the left after an ACL, MCL and meniscus tear in 2013, the right after an ACL tear last November. He returned from the first injury as a high school junior to reclaim his spot as the nation's best prospect.

But he hasn't played at all since the second, and plenty of people, from fans to NBA scouts, can't help but speculate how two surgically repaired knees will hold up. Will Giles be bionic or a bust?

In a September interview, Giles was determined to prove he was the former.

"Most definitely, I know people are doubting me,'' he said. "People would say, 'You're good. You're good. Don't worry.' But I want to prove the doubters wrong. I thrive on stuff like that.''

The doubters turned into shouters on Oct. 4 when Duke announced Giles would undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee. The school said then, and Krzyzewski has reiterated since, that this was nothing serious, simply a clean-out of loose cartilage and scar tissue remnants from the 2013 surgery. Giles, in fact, was the one who asked that doctors look at his knee. He was progressing well and then suddenly plateaued, feeling like he was hitting a roadblock.

Turns out that's quite literally what was happening. The scope revealed the actual particle impeding Giles' progress -- Krzyzewski likened it to something clogging a drain -- and once it was removed the relief was almost instantaneous. Giles now is climbing back up the rehab ladder, using resistance bands to continue to strengthen his legs.

He is not expected to be ready for the Blue Devils' season opener Friday, and Krzyzewski adamantly refuses to set an ETA for Giles. He won't even make a generic prediction. But the world isn't a patient place. The clock already is ticking.

Because whether you believe Giles is coming back or merely waiting to arrive, he most assuredly won't be here for long. Krzyzewski doesn't play coy about Giles' future, explaining that part of his reluctance to set a timetable for a return date is that he recognizes the delicate balance of present and future for his player.

"We don't want to put a timetable, especially on a one-and-done player, because we have to be really careful about his future,'' he said.

But it's that push-pull of "now vs. then" that makes things so much more complicated. NBA honchos will poke, prod and examine Giles' knee regardless, whether he plays two games or 32 this year. Still, the more games he plays, the less mystery there is. On the other hand, come back too soon and Giles risks damaging not just his knees but his draft stock even more.

Greg Oden knows all about this. In 2006, he, like Giles, was the top rated freshman in his class, a dominant and versatile center who led Ohio State all the way to the national title game. The Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the No. 1 pick, opting for Oden over Kevin Durant, a move widely hailed at the time.

Three months later, Oden underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee before he played a pro game. In 2010, he had the same surgery on his right knee, and then had a repeat procedure two years later.

Today he's a student-coach at Ohio State, taking courses and trying to figure out the next stage of his life. His basketball career is over.

Oden has never met Giles, but that doesn't stop him from offering advice -- strongly worded advice.

"So many people wanted me to play. I wanted to play, but I was so out of whack,'' Oden said. "I should have listened to what everybody said and sat my butt down. Instead, I kept trying to do extra stuff, to push myself to be ready faster. I was worried about being able to show people what I could do instead of worrying about getting better all the way. I will always regret that.''

There are two things working in Giles' favor, advantages that could help him avoid Oden's fate.

For starters, Duke has been here before. In 2010, Kyrie Irving arrived in Durham as the third-best freshman in the nation, a certain one-and-done lottery pick. Through seven games everything went exactly as planned; the Blue Devils owned the No. 1 ranking and a 7-0 record while Irving averaged 17.4 points per game. In game No. 8, Duke beat Butler 82-70, and Irving scored 17 first-half points, but he left the game in the second, noticeably grimacing as he walked.

Krzyzewski later announced Irving had a serious injury to his toe and that he did not know when -- or if -- Irving would return. The injury was a complicated one, affecting four of Irving's sesamoid bones and surrounding tendons. Surgery would mean six months out of basketball. The Duke medical staff did what Irving recently termed an experiment, casting his foot so that his toes pointed downward. The hope was that the scar tissue would replace what had been torn. The experiment worked and, coupled with Krzyzewski's patience, salvaged Irving's season. He returned in the second round of the NCAA tournament, scoring 50 points in the Blue Devils' final three games.

That year, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Irving with the first pick. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year.

"No one was rushing me back,'' Irving said recently. "They understood what was at hand, and the fact that my teammates welcomed me back in the March Madness was unbelievable. It just tells the belief that they had in me not only as a player but as a person. [Harry] is in the best place for this.''

The other advantage for Giles is Giles himself. A bubbly kid who owns a room as soon as he walks into it, he is sick of hearing that everything happens for a reason, because, to him, some things simply don't make sense.

He also understands that as bumpy as his road has been, it is not the worst thing to happen to him.

SHE'D DROP 30 on the boys almost every time they played. The only way they could stop her from scoring is if they threw a body at her and intentionally fouled her.

She knew it. And she loved it.

Giles can't so much remember meeting Celeste Burgess so much as always just sort of knowing her. She'd be at the rec center playing with her team while he was at the rec center with his team. Sometimes the girls squad would go up against the boys. Other times, Celeste just decided to play with the boys. Along the way, the two grew so close that Giles referred to Celeste's mom as Mama Donna and protected Celeste as if she were his sister.

The two Winston-Salem kids also grew into top hoops prospects in lock step. She was dominating the girls scene, he was taking over the boys. Already 6-feet by the time she was a freshman, Celeste averaged 15 points and six boards in her first season of high school, and college coaches soon showed interest. Harry, towering over his teammates at 6-9, averaged 13 points and seven rebounds. Coaches were equally enthralled.

That summer, the summer of 2013, Giles took off for Uruguay to play with the USA Basketball U16 team in the World Championships. In a game against Argentina, while trying to split two defenders, Giles felt his knee give. Unable to play, he still opted to stay with his team and watch them complete the tournament.

When he returned home, he finally had an MRI. It revealed he had torn his ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee.

"I was young, so I really didn't understand it at the time,'' Giles said. "So I really just couldn't do anything but cry, just because I was young. So I really couldn't handle it.''

That was on June 19, 2013.

Two days later, Celeste hopped in the car with her brother to drive from his Alabama home to the camp in Auburn. Donna Burgess tried to reach her daughter that day via text. Celeste never answered. Donna tried her older son, the one driving Burgess. No response. When her husband returned from work for lunch, he said he hadn't heard from their daughter, either, but told his wife not to worry, that she was fretting for nothing.

"Mother's intuition,'' Donna Burgess said. "I knew something wasn't right.''

Minutes later Allen Burgess' phone rang. It was a hospital in Alabama. A woman driving a minivan along Alabama Highway 93 had crossed over the center line, crashing into the car carrying Celeste. The driver of the minivan died immediately. Celeste was airlifted to a nearby hospital.

She died that night. Celeste Burgess was 14.

On July 1, 2013, days after his own basketball career had come to a screeching halt, Giles joined countless others in a line that stretched outside the doors of St. Peter's Church and World Outreach Center to pay his respects to Celeste.

"People asked me what got me through that year,'' Giles said. "I didn't mention it, but I think, honestly, her passing -- that's why I was working so hard. I was down early, but I also was like, 'All right. You're hurting, but you get to play again. She doesn't. She's gone. You don't get to text her anymore or see her again.' She loved basketball so much, so it was like I was going to play for her.''

GILES DID PLAY FOR CELESTE, just not for a while. He spent his entire sophomore year at Wesleyan Christian rehabbing his injured knee, joining his high school coach, Keith Gatlin, at hot yoga or working in a swimming pool when he wasn't in the training room. He used his time on the bench to study the game more closely, but he itched to join his teammates again.

Finally, he returned for his junior season. A brace offered a security blanket over that surgically repaired knee, and a chip dug deep into his shoulder.

"He had so much attention, and, in his mind, I think he thought, 'People forgot about me,'" Gatlin said. "He was always trying to prove he was the same Harry. And that was a good thing, because a player of his magnitude, you're always trying to find something to push you. That gave him an edge.''

The chip and the edge produced a player who not only led the Trojans to a 30-5 record while averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, but one who assumed again his position atop the recruiting rankings. Giles stretched his dominance through that summer at the prestigious Nike EYBL camp, starring for Chris Paul's CP3 team and averaging 18 points and 12 boards.

Giles also decided to transfer to Oak Hill Academy, the Virginia-based prep school that has produced dozens of NBA players. He said he wanted to "lock in on school and basketball at the highest level" and hoped to lead Oak Hill to a national championship.

At Oak Hill's first game of the season, with his family proudly watching from the stands, Giles planted to drive to the bucket and felt a very familiar pain.

Only this time, it was in his right knee. He hobbled off the court and into the hallway, trying to make it right, but when Giles returned to the bench he felt a pop. This time he didn't even need an MRI to confirm his own diagnosis.

"I knew. I knew I was done,'' he said.

Giles had torn just his ACL this time, but the end result was the same -- another lost basketball season.

"My family is like, 'Are you all right?' They hit you with, 'You good?'" Giles said. "I don't want to hear that stuff. I wanted to hear, 'Good job,' stuff like that. I'm thinking the whole time, 'This can't be happening again. It can't be. It can't be.'"

Buoyed by unwavering support from Krzyzewski, who reaffirmed his commitment to Giles the day he was injured, Giles announced he'd be a Blue Devil the very next day. But unable to play at Oak Hill, he withdrew and finished his senior year online.

Instead of a season traveling the country and winning basketball games, he returned to the lonely world of rehab. Instead of a big graduation ceremony and celebration, there was a group of nine kids getting their diploma and a quiet dinner out.

"I was kind of like, I lost basketball, but you also lose your life at the same time,'' Giles said. "Who am I? What am I doing?''

Giles isn't the type to track in self pity. He's perpetually upbeat, a happy motor-mouth whose fast talk and Southern accent (he calls it "country") occasionally leave his teammates lost in translation. But he has had his fair share of lousy days. Rehab is a lonely, humbling place, where goals are achieved in wobbly baby steps.

Now 6-10 and known for his explosiveness, Giles stood mystified staring at the rim as he realized he couldn't dunk. This summer, while his teammates played pick up or worked out individually with coaches, Giles stood off alone, mastering the art of the resistance band.

"I ask myself, 'Why?' every day, and 75 percent of me thinks there's going to be a bigger blessing down the road, but a part of me still doesn't understand why," he said. "But I think sometimes, you just gotta go through some stuff. If you find a path with no obstacles, then it leads to nowhere."

ON THE DAY CELESTE BURGESS DIED, her mother walked into her daughter's bedroom and saw Celeste's wallet sitting on a dresser. Donna always taught her kids to write things down, as a way to reinforce their thoughts and dreams. She also told them always to date their notes.

Tucked inside Celeste's wallet, Donna found a piece of paper folded up. On it, Celeste had written down five goals: to finish high school, to play college ball, to play in the WNBA, to go to law school at Wake Forest and to set up some sort of a foundation to help young women pay for travel basketball.

Just as her mother had taught her, Celeste wrote the date down.

June 21, 2012.

"One year to the day before she passed,'' Donna Burgess said. "I had to find a way to honor her wishes.''

Donna couldn't finish high school for her daughter, and she couldn't go to college or law school. She did, however, check off item No. 5 on Celeste's to-do list. She started a foundation -- the CB O.N.E Foundation -- that provides educational assistance and community enrichment to young women.

As for items No. 2 and No. 3, fulfilling Celeste's basketball career, that continues through Giles. Whenever the day comes and he slips on his Duke uniform for the first time, Giles will wear jersey No. 1.

The same number Celeste wore.

"With everything he has going on, being the No. 1 player in the country, playing for Duke, he could be talking about himself," Donna Burgess said. "I kind of talk out loud with her still, and I tell her, 'Your brother is still talking about you.' I know she's smiling about that. He'll never know what that means to me. Harry is such a good person."

How's Harry?

Harry is just fine.

ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin contributed to this story.