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Giles adds teeth to Tornado attack

GREG STILES

The turning point in North Medford's girls basketball season may have come a week before the Black Tornado's first game.

That's the day Ashlee Giles discarded her knee brace and once more ran the court like a gazelle.

The 5-foot-9 junior tore the medial collateral ligament in her right knee Sept. 30 in North's 1-0 soccer win over South Medford.

It was one of the few games where I actually had gotten away from my desk, says basketball coach Mike Kay, who doubles as North's dean of students. When I saw her go down I just got that sick feeling where all you can do is hope it's not the worst.

North's chances for a state soccer title dimmed that afternoon.

It was doubly significant to Kay, who inserted Giles into his lineup early last basketball season. The Tornado's velocity wouldn't be the same without her -- especially on the defensive end.

She's an incredibly resilient kid, though, Kay says. It's amazing how she just took it in stride -- at least externally. She basically just set her own timetable and said, `I'll be back for the first game, don't worry about it.'

A week before the first game she takes off the knee brace and starts running. I asked her if she was supposed to and she said: `I'm tired of wearing it.' It's incredible how quick she got her confidence back.

Just as quickly, all those full-court presses Kay planned to throw at opponents were upgraded from annoying to downright scary. The Tornado's mental toughness ratcheted up a couple of notches and the Southern Oregon Conference's top scorers were guaranteed at least a couple of forgettable nights on the schedule.

Her biggest attribute is her complete understanding of what we're trying to do defensively, says Kay, whose team is 15-1 and ranked fourth in the state. At halftime, she's talking about things going on and how to correct them. A lot of kids in their junior year just don't have that court sense.

Giles glides so fluidly up and down the floor that she makes opposing ballhandlers look like they're playing on loose gravel.

SOC scoring leader Becky Gregory of Eagle Point was 3-for-13 against North, Crater's Chassie Wiersma settled for 11 points and Ashland's Jenny Pippa was shut out.

She takes the best kid on the other team night in and night out, Kay says. Against different teams she does different things.

While holding Gregory in check, the left-handed Giles scored 15 points. Against Klamath Union she had nine steals.

She's a good shooter, too, says Kay. She's right at 50 percent from the 3-point line.

Still, it's what she does defensively that turns a game into futile misery for foes.

She causes lots of problems because of those long arms and her foot speed, Crater coach David Heard says. You try to stay away from her as much as possible. But North's whole team is quicker than we are, so where do you start?

Heard had Giles on his side during summer all-star play.

She's very good making decisions and creating things, Heard says. She finds the left side of the basket and finishes.

Giles long ago developed a demeanor to go with her style and she added more mental callouses over the summer.

Kay introduced her to Howard Avery, whose Triple Threat basketball establishment in suburban Tualatin has supplanted metropolitan playgrounds for developing players. Surrounded by all-state-caliber players, including Class 4A scoring leader Shaquala Williams, Giles saw the game much differently.

I had never seen anything like it, she admits. It was real physical and you worked your tail off. The players were so good that it made me want to work harder to play like them.

The long drives to Portland apparently paid off and perhaps even helped during Giles two-month rehabilitation.

I had been working out on a bike at Superior (Athletic Club) so I still had muscle in my leg _ it wasn't completely dead, she says.

The third-degree tear on the side of the knee split the ligament in half.

I had taken care of it the best I could, Giles says. I felt it was going to be fine. All I was worried about was getting better as soon as possible. It hurt in the first game at Del Norte, but it didn't distract me.

Like several of her teammates, Giles began her high school career elsewhere. She played in half of South Medford's varsity games as a freshman.

But she missed her pal Lu Crenshaw, with whom she had played basketball since fourth grade and even longer in soccer. After their eighth grade year at Hedrick, Crenshaw headed to North and Giles enrolled at South.

I had a choice, she recalls. I could go to Cascade (Christian), North or South. Socially, most of my friends went to North and Cascade was in Jacksonville and I didn't want to drive that far. I liked South, but I still hung out with Lu.

The pull of friends was enough to send her across town after her freshman year.

Now, they're trying to bring North Medford its first SOC championship.

We're just concentrating on the next game, she says. But we want that conference title. That would be great.