Will Giles isn’t exactly what you would call an average Duke student. He prefers old rock and roll music to today’s hip hop, he prefers watching the New York Knicks of the 1970s to today’s Miami Heat and his favorite current NBA player is Kevin Love because he likes rebounders.
He’s also the captain of the women’s basketball team's all-male practice squad.
Giles, a 6-foot-1 junior double majoring in political science and public policy with a minor in history, is from Saltillo, Texas, a small town in the eastern part of the state. His freshman dorm, Randolph, had more people than in his entire town. He ran cross country and played baseball and basketball throughout high school with his father as his coach for all three.
Although he was recruited for basketball by six Division III schools, Giles decided to come to Duke. After attempting to become a manager for the men’s basketball program freshman year, he realized that the women’s squad was looking for practice players and decided to join. It is a choice he does not regret.
“It’s been great,” Giles said. “It’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve made since coming to Duke. I really like the team atmosphere and [the girls] are really good. They’re better than 99 percent of the people that go to Wilson or Brodie to play pickup. It’s nice to have consistent competition every day.”
On Sunday, Giles led the practice squad in the Blue/White Scrimmage as the practice players got to play one 10-minute quarter against the team they practice against daily. Due to the size of the practice squad, Giles only played four minutes to allow every practice squad player to take the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium. He was a successful player-coach, however, making his only shot, grabbing two rebounds and leading his team from the sidelines to a 22-21 victory on a last second shot by Veerain Gupta. A season ago, Giles played on the squad that played four quarters against the women’s team and won 70-69.
“We lost seven people last year,” Giles said. “I was interested to see how the puzzle fit together [on Sunday]... but we played really well together. I was very thankful for that.”
At 8:29 a.m.—arriving early for Tuesday morning's practice—Giles helped the team’s student managers set up three basketball hoops on the side of the court that the team uses to shoot free throws on after practice.
After a film session, the team took the floor shortly before 9:30 and began warming up. After a quick set of instructions from head coach Joanne P. McCallie, Giles and the rest of the practice squad took the court to defend post entry passes and halfcourt set run by a team ranked in the top three in the nation by every preseason poll.
Giles kept his arms flailing and remained active throughout the seemingly-mundane drill—he worked against all of the team's guards, including senior Tricia Liston, whom he said has significantly improved her ball handling since her sophomore year, when Giles first saw her play during his first year on the practice squad.
Giles stole a post entry pass intended for senior forward Haley Peters, whom he said is bar none the smartest basketball player he has ever been around. He then quickly got back to the top of the zone to defend the next possession.
The practice squad got its turn on offense as McCallie ordered them to try to get up a 3-pointer in 10 seconds after starting at midcourt in preparation for the team’s exhibition game against Glenville State Wednesday evening—the Lady Pioneers averaged 14 3-pointers per game a season ago. Minutes later, Giles knocked down his first 3-pointer of the morning.
In the next set of drills, Giles did his best Josh Hairston impression and took a charge, much to the chagrin of senior guard Richa Jackson and pleasure of McCallie.
Giles claimed that many of the girls consistently accuse him of flopping, but that he only occasionally does so. He said he believes that those are the little things that McCallie appreciates most about the practice players—commitment, hustle and consistency.
Recently, McCallie has asked him to start using trash talk against her team to make practices even more competitive—although Giles prefers to let his play do the talking.
"Our guys are really nice," sophomore guard Alexis Jones said with a coy smile when asked about trash talk. "They help us out a lot. The point guards are really quick. They really make us play defense which is really good for us. There's no trash talk.... We're all nice to each other."
Giles sits behind assistant coach Al Brown at every home game and helps keep stats for the team. Brown is known for wearing a different, flamboyant sweater to each game. Giles has since joined in the tradition, starting what he has dubbed the "ugly sweater contest" a humorous rivalry at each home game.
Later in the morning, Giles added a block on two-time All-American forward Elizabeth Williams.
Giles attributes his ability to consistently compete with all of the girls on the team—even two-time All-Americans Williams and Chelsea Gray—to his dad's coaching and focus on fundamentals.
Heading to the showers shortly after 11 a.m., Giles departed Cameron to get to class while the team wrapped up practice for the day and prepared for its first exhibition game.
Despite injuring his hand in practice, don't expect Giles to stay out for too long—he has missed only one practice this year due to an exam. He will likely be back at it again bright and early Thursday morning, sharing the goal of the Division I athletes with whom he shares the court.
“I just really want to help the women’s team as best as possible,” Giles said. “I want them to succeed. I want them to get past the four straight Elite Eights.”