Love for son, basketball leads Billy Giles to Robert Morris
February 24, 2016 12:00 AM
Robert Morris forward Billy Giles dribbles with his son Cameron "Cam" Giles, 2, after a recent Robert Morris basketball game at Sewall Center.
Cameron "Cam" Giles, 2, races into the locker room to great his father, Billy Giles, after a recent Robert Morris basketball game
Cameron "Cam" Giles, 2, shares a moment with his father Billy Giles after a recent Robert Morris basketball game
By Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Billy Giles had just finished playing a Division I basketball game, but he was back on the Sewall Center court Feb. 18 within a half-hour of the final buzzer.
It wasn’t for extra practice or to chat with students. It was to do what many fathers do after a hard day of work — play ball with his son.
Well, as much ball as he can play with a 2-year-old who tends to kick the basketball just as much as he attempts to shoot it, and who seems equally as interested in pointing out all the Colonials logos — he calls them Pirates because of the striking similarity — throughout the arena.
“I have to pull him out of the gym,” Giles said of his son, Cameron. “Even when we’re back to the room, it’s, ‘Let’s go play basketball.’ ”
Being a father is just part of why this Robert Morris junior forward isn’t a typical college student. At 25, he’s by far the oldest member of the team after transferring from junior college before this season. And how he ended up as a starter for the Colonials (9-20, 7-9 Northeast Conference), ready to face Sacred Heart (11-16, 10-6) at 7 p.m. Thursday at William H. Pitt Center, easily would make an inspiring “30 for 30.”
“You can definitely see that he has perspective about what’s really important, and he has a ton of life experience,” coach Andy Toole said. “That really leads him to look at this opportunity as one that he values because, again, there were a lot of times where I’m sure he didn’t think he’d be able to be a Division I player or maybe get to go to college for free.”
Growing up in Richmond, Va., Giles, at 6 feet 7, 200 pounds, became a standout player at Douglas S. Freeman High School, attracting attention from Division I schools as early as his sophomore year. But he moved out of his father’s house the day after he turned 18 and failed to follow up with any of the interested schools. Instead of playing after graduation in 2009, he worked — including picking up cardboard throughout a mail distribution warehouse alone for eight hours a day.
“I was a kid that thought I was grown before I was grown,” Giles said. “And my attitude was just, nobody could tell me to do anything.”
What sparked Giles’ spiral was a dire diagnosis for his father. Doctors gave Felix Giles no more than a year to live during his son’s senior year of high school after discovering a tumor on his kidney. Felix had raised Billy Giles and his younger brother, as well as two of Billy’s half-siblings, on his own. Billy Giles’ mother hadn’t been around since he was about 3.
So Billy Giles rebelled.
“It was just me and my dad, and that’s all I had,” he said. “So, I really felt like I was losing everything at that time.”
But Felix Giles defied the doctor’s prognosis, outliving the odds by six years and counting despite having stage 4 renal cancer. And with his father still living, Billy Giles decided it was time to move on with his life.
“If you want to find someone that works hard and is determined,” Felix Giles said. “That’s Billy Giles.”
A friend who played for Hartnell College in California told the younger Giles the team needed players. And within two months of that conversation, Giles was on a plane headed for the opposite coast with $1,000 in his pocket.
Just before the season started, Giles received more life-changing news — his then-girlfriend was pregnant. He played the season at Hartnell but moved back to Virginia in the second semester and took online courses before his son arrived in May 2013.
“Before he was born, honestly, I was scared,” Giles said. “Once he was born, it was like, ‘I have to do whatever I can to support him. I have to make sure he’s OK. I’m his life support. He’s dependent on how successful I am.’ ”
Life became all about Cam and pursuing a basketball career was an afterthought. Giles still played at the park and YMCA, where people would come up to him and say, “You need to play college.” In the back of his mind, he wondered, “What if?”
A little more than a year later, he found out.
One of his friends persuaded Giles to try out with him for Allegany College in Maryland. He walked on the court and dunked on his first play. That was pretty much how the rest of 2014-15 went.
Giles averaged 23.6 points and 14.9 rebounds per game that season, leading the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I in rebounding and ranking third in scoring. Robert Morris took notice, and Giles said he instantly felt like he belonged with the Colonials.
The transition took some time, though. Partly it was the basketball, adjusting to the speed and size of Division I while also playing out of position at center because of a depleted Robert Morris bench. The bigger part was being a six-hour drive away from home and his son, with daily FaceTime calls as the only connection.
But after going home for the holidays and settling into his role, Giles became one of the best players on the floor in the past five games. He put in a career performance Feb. 6 against Bryant, when he scored 23 points and 10 rebounds.
His son was there to watch, and he was present in the stands behind the bench again for the games last week, too. His dad’s teammates are like cool uncles, as freshman guard Matty McConnell taught the toddler how to Dab, and junior point guard Kavon Stewart gave him $5.
But as Cameron’s mom, Brittany Marsh, says, “They’re not together very often, so when they are together, it’s all about daddy.”
For Giles, it’s all about his son.
“Me doing this, it shows him that he can do anything, to never be afraid of doing anything,” Giles said. “And that’s how I want to raise him. I want to raise him to be able to conquer the world.
“That really is my goal is to be able to give him the opportunities to do whatever he wants to do.”
Megan Ryan: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @theothermegryan.
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