WINTER HAVEN — Brandon Giles took over the Polk State College men’s basketball program on July 5, 2017. He had only a few weeks until school started and a whopping seven roster spots to fill.
As one might expect, the 2017-18 season was a tough one for Giles and his Eagles, as they clawed their way to six wins.
Things improved significantly from year one to year two, as Polk State more than doubled its win total in 2018-19, finishing with a record of 14-17.
The upward trajectory of the program under Giles has continued in his third season. Some might even say it has accelerated. Polk State is 11-3, ranked No. 4 in the state and nationally-ranked (No. 21).
Giles, a Polk native who was a standout for Auburndale High and later at Western Carolina University, was following in the footsteps of his father, Josh Giles, when he took the job. The elder Giles, who has since passed away, coached the program from 1987 to 1999.
Previous stints coaching as an assistant at Auburndale High and Warner University helped to prepare Giles for his first head coaching role, but the Polk native knew there would be a learning curve.
“I knew it was going to take time — my biggest thing was for us to get better and improve every year,” Giles said. “Every year I’ve learned more and more (as a coach). I’ve put guys around me, my staff, and different mentors ... that’s helped. You’ve got to be willing to listen.”
The success so far this season has spilled over into individual accolades and milestones, also.
Sophomore Malcolm Stevenson was named the NJCAA Region 8 Men's Basketball Player of the Week on Dec. 10 and Stevenson and Tekorian “T.K.” Smith have each already signed National Letters of Intent to continue their careers at four-year programs once their junior college eligibility expires after this season.
Giles credits an emphasis on defense — and that defense turning into offensive production in transition — for helping his team to average more than 85 points per game through 14 games.
He also says he and his staff have been working diligently to acclimate the players to adversity.
“We’ve been putting our guys in more uncomfortable situations in practice,” Giles explained. “Now, once adversity hits during games, it’s something that’s not foreign to guys. We’ve prepared them.”
The Eagles get to rest their wings for a bit during the next week or so, ahead of a busy January slate. Polk State returns home to its Winter Haven campus court on Wednesday, January 1, with a 3 p.m. game against College of Central Florida.
Giles said the home crowds have been impressive so far this season and expressed pride at the growth of the team’s booster program and support from area businesses.
Winning, he explained, helps attract attention.
“The biggest thing is people want to be attached to winners,” Giles said. “We’ve got to consistently do that. I’m extremely grateful for this community and what they do for us.”
For more information on the Polk State men’s basketball program and its hot start to the 2019-20 season, visit PolkEagles.com.