Polk State head basketball coach, incoming transfers inspired by accomplished dads

Published on by Polk Newsroom

Father’s Day is one of those days when men and women from across the country reflect on the impact their fathers have had on their lives.

Polk State Basketball Head Coach Brandon Giles has perhaps the most recognizable last name in program history. His father, James “Josh” Giles, was the program’s head coach for 14 years and led what was then Polk Community College to numerous marquee wins and three state championships while coaching many who went on to play major collegiate basketball, including former NBA forwards Lorenzo Williams.

“Being able to sit in his chair and execute on the foundation he laid is #1 for my family,” said Brandon Giles. “I grew up in these offices. Some of the people my dad worked with still attend games.”

Gile’s passion for basketball came from his father. He recalls traveling with the team to away games as a youngster – not quite sure where the team’s journey was headed. Josh Giles died of a heart attack in 2002 when his son was just 14, but those who knew him see a glimpse of his son.

“I hear people say, ‘You’re your father again,'” Giles said. “They tell me they see it in my manners or even the way I wear my hat.”

When it comes to the Polk State program, however, Giles is far from alone in having a larger-than-life father. The 2022 recruiting class consists of a handful of players who also have very successful fathers.

Kenny Burns III is an incoming transfer from Division I Kennesaw State. His father, Kenny Burns Jr., has been an important figure in the Atlanta area for more than two decades. An entrepreneur, media personality, motivational speaker, and brand developer, he has worked with the likes of Monica, Jay Z, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, and the Spice Girls, among others. According to the younger Burns, his most important role is being a father.

Kenny Burns III and Kenny Burns Jr. take a break from basketball for a photo.

“My dad is a big part of me,” Burns said. “I’ve seen the trials and tribulations and the dedication he puts into it. He gave me the blueprint for what it means to choose your dreams and do what you love every day.”

Jordan Smalls, who previously played at Rider, is another Division I transfer with a savvy ‘old man’. Also based in the Atlanta area, Anthony Smalls is a Chartered Accountant working with clients in the entertainment industry. These included Outkast and Rick Ross.

“He’s a hard working guy who loves his family and has always been a role model for me,” said the younger Smalls. “He always talked about being ahead of the competition. He showed me that I can achieve anything I want to achieve in life.”

A young Jordan Smalls stands accompanied by father Anthony Smalls.

Another Division I transfer bringing his talents to Polk State is the 6-foot-9 AJ Hamrick. While Burns and Smalls fathers worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment, Hamrick’s father, Adrian Hamrick, worked with a historically important unknown – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a memorial that pays tribute to US soldiers and women killed in combat, whose remains have never been found. Guarding the memorial is a job reserved for US soldiers who meet the highest standards. Adrian Hamrick was the 366th Soldier to receive this award.

“I got my leadership skills from my father,” said the younger Hamrick. “He showed me how to be empathetic and lead by example.”

A U.S. Army ranger and drill instructor who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, retired Sgt. Maj. Adrian Hamrick was awarded the Purple Heart and inducted into the U.S. Veterans Hall of Fame. A community-minded veteran, the elder Hamrick was also honored by the NBA’s Daughters of the American Revolution and the Charlotte Hornets.

AJ Hamrick (centre) is joined by his father Adrian (right) and mother Nicole Smith (left).

“He was always my role model,” added the Charleston Southern transfer. “He showed me everything.”

As a father, Giles knows the important role they play. As a coach and recruiter, Giles says it’s often easy to tell which players have had a father in their lives. These fathers are often prominent in helping their sons choose a school.

“He was heavily involved in the recruiting process,” Burns Jr. said of his father. “Everything basketball goes through him. It’s good to have someone around to keep you level-headed. My mum is also a great help mentally.”

Giles has two sons, each with part of their father’s name as their middle name. Jrue Josh Giles is 6 and Harden James Giles is 2. As a coach, Giles says players who have father figures in their lives tend to be more confident – not necessarily as players but as people.

“And that’s nothing against the players whose fathers aren’t involved because that’s where we come in as coaches to help them in those areas,” Giles said. “Fatherhood is special; it’s real, it’s organic and it’s just nice to see how it works. When a father is not there, one can often see a lack of leadership or maturity.

“For some of these children without fathers, we’re really proud to help them and see them mature as people,” Giles continued. “You’ll be a man longer than a Hooper. We share that with them.”

As prominent as their fathers are, Giles, Hamrick, Burns and Smalls were encouraged to be their own personalities and make their own names.

“I definitely want to applaud what he did here,” Giles said of his late father. “I also want to build my own legacy and surpass what he has achieved.”

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