By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
February 1, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Jerry West scored 9 points in his college debut against VMI on Dec. 3, 1957. I only mention that because I am getting the impression that some people are expecting super human things from freshman center Deniz Kilicli in his WVU debut on Wednesday night against Pitt.
Kilicli, you may recall, was suspended by the NCAA for the first 20 games of the season for playing on a team in Turkey that included a professional player. His suspension ended Saturday after West Virginia’s 77-74 victory over Louisville that boosted the Mountaineers’ record to 17-3.
The one opportunity WVU fans got to see Kilicli perform was in the exhibition game against the University of Charleston on Dec. 5 when he scored 18 points. That’s pretty good, but Charleston is not Pitt.
“It’s been three months,” said Kilicli Friday. “I’ve just been working out, trying to keep my head into the practices and work as hard as I can.”
“They’re always better when you don’t have them than when you get them,” joked West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
That’s definitely true, but what Kilicli (6-foot-9 and 265 pounds) could ultimately add to the Mountaineer rotation is a big guy in the paint who can score near the basket. At least that is what Huggins is hoping for.
“We just have a hard time down there,” Huggins said. “KJ (Kevin Jones) has done a heck of a job but you combine those two and Deniz can score against bigger people. He’s so much wider – he can create so much more space.”
Essentially, through the first 20 games of the season what Huggins has had available near the basket were wing players in Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith, Jones, John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman.
The player probably most affected is Smith, who will finally be free to play more on the wing where he has shown the ability this year to knock down open jump shots.
“I think it helps us because we don’t have to play Wells as heavy of minutes (in the post),” said Huggins. “What that guy does day in and day out … everybody is bigger than him. He has to fight for position every second he’s on the floor.”
According to Huggins, the coaching staff started prepping Kilicli for specific things a week ago in anticipation for this Wednesday’s game against Pitt.
“We’ve been trying to lean on him a little bit more the last week or so to try and get him ready and make sure he understands, conceptually, what we need to get done,” Huggins explained.
That may take a while, or it might not.
Of course there are a lot of factors that come into play. Is his game conditioning where it needs to be? How will the big crowds affect him? Can he match the physical play required of Big East centers? Can he rebound? Will he be able to defend?
“I think I’m going to be nervous for sure because there is going to be a crazy crowd in here, but that’s what I do – that’s my job,” Kilicli said. “If he calls my name I will go in there and play.”
Kilicli admits that it has been tough watching his buddies play, particularly when the team is away from campus on road trips.
“We are a good team friendship wise and when they are gone there is nothing to do,” Kilicli says. “I just sit at the dorm and watch the game and I’m like, ‘Come on, man.’ I’m waiting for the guys to turn back. It’s soon that I’m going to be traveling with them.”
In the meantime, Kilicli has been strumming on his electric guitar to help pass the time. That’s right, electric guitar.
“I’ve played guitar for like 12 years,” he said. “That’s the second side of my life. After practice I just go home and play guitar for a couple of hours. I’m like, ‘I’m relaxed now. I can go to sleep.’”
Kilicli plays what he calls “old-school stuff” – which is amusing to us 40-somethings because what he calls old-school is actually contemporary to us.
“My uncle used to play basketball and now he’s a musician,” said Kilicli. “He always said, ‘Don’t play guitar that much because it’s good stuff when you get on stage. If you do it too much you won’t want to play basketball.’ (Basketball) is what I love. Guitar is just a thing.”
That is certainly music to Bob Huggins’ ears. Then again, you don’t see too many 6-9 guys standing on stage playing lead guitar (my department music expert says Steve Vai is 6-3, although I have no idea who that is).
The coach was asked last week if he’s had a chance to listen to Kilicli play guitar.
“No I haven’t,” he chuckled, “but I’m looking forward to it, though.”
On a more serious note, Huggins is looking forward to having his first true post player since Joe Alexander in 2008.
“I’m just going to play as hard as I can and we’ll just see what is going to happen because I haven’t played a Big East game yet,” said Kilicli. “I didn’t grow up watching the Big East. The players are great. I think it’s going to be a good time.”
Huggins is naturally taking a cautious approach to Kilicli’s debut on Wednesday night.
“It remains to be seen how fast we can get him up to snuff defensively because he can’t be like a couple of other guys where you put them in to make a shot and their guy makes three,” Huggins said. “That’s just a bad tradeoff. He’s big enough, strong enough and he’s got good enough feet that he can guard.”
Kilicli, too, is taking a realistic approach. He said the expectations can be limitless.
“You can say anything,” he said. “You can say 60 points and 30 rebounds, but the best thing for me is that I’ll help my team. I’m not talking about stats or anything. Maybe get a couple of rebounds, some blocks, and a couple of points. That would be the best story for me.”
If Kilicli can somehow get the 9 points and 13 rebounds on Wednesday night against the Panthers that Jerry West produced against VMI in 1957, I will gladly take it.
And I know a certain basketball coach with more than 650 wins who would take that in a heartbeat as well.
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