West Virginia University senior center Deniz Kilicli
believes Mountaineer fans are going to see a much faster, more athletic basketball team out on the floor this year.
Now, this year’s team may not be quite as athletic as the teams Coach Bob Huggins frequently ran out on the floor when he was at Cincinnati, but it will be more athletic than what West Virginia fans are used to seeing around here. Last year, West Virginia’s lack of athleticism reared its ugly head at times, particularly on the offensive end of the floor.
“We were playing half court and we were trying to beat people with our strength, and sometimes people can catch up to that,” said Kilicli. “I’ve been doing that for three years and we’ve been playing like that the whole time I’ve been here, but now (utilizing the fast break) is a new weapon that we can use and I think this is going to help us a lot.”
West Virginia should be able to play faster for a number of reasons. No. 1, the Mountaineers have three legitimate ball handlers in Jabarie Hinds
, Gary Browne
and Dayton transfer Juwan Staten
and all of them are capable of playing on the floor at the same time. No. 2, the additions of Boston College transfer Matt Humphrey
and freshmen Terry Henderson
and Eron Harris
give the Mountaineers more athleticism than they have had in recent years, and No. 3, West Virginia is a much, much more experienced team meaning they can run at a faster pace without having basketballs flying up into the stands on a regular basis.
Getting out into the open court could also mean easier scoring opportunities for the Mountaineers, which frequently experienced long droughts in several games last year. And that could mean points from a lot of different players, too.
“Because we will run a lot this year now everybody has a chance to score, but we’re still going to have our go-to guys,” he said. “Throughout the season it may change who those guys are, but I think this year there are a couple more guys that we can go to. We are going to have three or four of them, probably, because everybody has been here working and everybody can do everything on this team.”
Last year, West Virginia’s Achilles heel was clearly its inability to consistently make open shots. Henderson and Humphrey were brought in to help in that area, plus, West Virginia’s returning players have also spent a lot of time in the gym this summer working on their outside shooting as well.
“Every day there is going to be somebody in there shooting on their own,” said Kilicli. “Jabarie, A.B. (Aaron Brown
), Gary, all those guys have been in the gym working on their outside shooting, ball handling and all that stuff. That is what they have really focused on this summer, so I don’t think we are going to have a problem with outside shooting.”
Kilicli really likes what he has seen so far from West Virginia’s three transfers and he believes they will give the Mountaineers a big boost this winter.
“Aaric (Murray) is tall, long and athletic,” Kilicli said. “When he wants to he can guard anybody and offensively he’s really good. He can bring that other element to the game that we need. Juwan is a pass-first, real point guard so he’s going to be able to organize us on the court and he’s been really dedicated as well. He’s the guy that can kind of calm everybody down and organize us on the court.”
Humphrey can consistently knock down open shots on the wing and is tall enough where longer defenders won't bother him as much.
The two newcomers have also caught Deniz’s eye.
“The freshmen are really good,” he said. “Eron is really athletic and Terry is really athletic as well. They learn pretty fast, but we saw last year there are times during the season that (freshmen) are going to struggle and they don’t know it yet. They will get way better over the years and I think both are going to be great players. This year they can both help us a lot.”
Defensively, West Virginia may be able to ramp up the pressure a little bit. You may not see full-court pressing like Huggins used to do at Cincinnati, but he may be able to extend his defense beyond the arc in half court sets this year.
“We want to play a faster-paced game and put out a couple different defenses so people don’t know what we are going to do and on offense, just get into our offense from transition so people don’t know what we are getting in to,” said Kilicli. “We are going to try and play like that and see what happens.”
Kilicli was the team’s third-leading scorer last year, averaging 10.7 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor. He will again be expected to provide an inside presence this winter and it will be interesting to see if Kilicli's and Murray’s styles can fit on the floor at the same time. If so, West Virginia will have two skilled big guys - a 6-foot-9, 260-pounder and a long, 6-foot-10, 245-pounder working the paint and the baseline simultaneously.
Deniz thinks they will eventually be able to play off of each other as the season wears on.
“I never had a problem adapting to anybody’s game and they never had a problem adapting to my game,” he said. “What we are trying to do here is not adapting to each other but more to play as a team as a whole. I think we are going to adapt to Huggs’ game and what he wants, so we all are going to be on the same page.
“Me and Aaric can be really physical because he’s really long and tall, and I’m alright, so I guess we can be a really good duo,” said Kilicli.
It was evident during last Friday’s Gold-Blue Debut that West Virginia has a much deeper, more skilled basketball team. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how quickly Huggins can bring them together in time to face an outstanding Gonzaga team on Nov. 12 in Spokane.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.