Is Turkish beast Deniz Kilicli the missing piece for West Virginia?
The biggest wild card in college basketball's stretch run will make his debut on Wednesday, against Pittsburgh at a sold-out WVU Coliseum.
His name is
But Kilicli is also a rugged, 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward who could be an NBA draft prospect in a few seasons, and West Virginia coach
Kilicli's college career, like that of numerous international players before him, was stalled by an NCAA amateurism issue -- one that seems unfair, and, strangely, involves a member of George Mason's magical run to the Final Four in 2006. In 2007-08, Kilicli was playing for Pertevniyal, the Turkish Second Basketball League (or TBL2) farm club of Istanbul powerhouse Efes Pilsen. Pertevniyal is typically a team of promising young Turks, and Kilicli never signed a pro contract. Prior to that season, though, the big club signed former Patriots star (and
Because Kilicli had played in games
"I didn't know any NCAA rules at the time," Kilicli said, and this is understandable, given that he was 17 at the time and barely spoke any English. "I thought if you don't get paid, you're alright."
That wasn't the case, and Kilicli had to cope with being ineligible for the first three months of his freshman season, taking out his frustrations in the weight room and on the practice floor. "He handled it well -- a lot better than I would have," says Huggins. "I wouldn't have been very happy. How was he supposed to know [not to play with Butler]?"
It was worst when the Mountaineers went on the road, because Kilicli had to stay behind in Morgantown. While they were at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., over Thanksgiving weekend, he was stuck, alone, in an international dorm that had remained open on campus. He tried to watch games on ESPN, but it became so frustrating ("I'd get too pissed, and have to turn it off," he says) that he'd just resort to following the score on the Internet.
Not that seeing games live wasn't difficult, too: During West Virginia's lone home loss this season, to Syracuse on Jan. 16, he watched in agony as Orange big men
"I came to America to play basketball," says Kilicli, "and I see all these guys in the Big East who are so big, strong and talented, and I just want to compete with them. I kept thinking to myself, 'Let me out there with Onuaku!' "
The Mountaineers won't get a regular-season rematch with Syracuse, but they won't mind having a 260-pound bruiser to go up against plenty of the teams remaining on their schedule, especially Pitt (Feb. 3 and Feb. 12), Cincinnati (Feb. 27) and Georgetown (March 1). Huggins already has an abundance of forwards at his disposal, so many that he once used a five-forward lineup with
Huggins doesn't know when, exactly, he's going to use Kilicli on Wednesday; the coach only says, "We're gonna throw him in there and see what he does." Kilicli reportedly can, like a lot of European big men, pass and shoot well. The original tape he sent to Fulford -- through Pertevniyal teammate
In the Mountaineers' two exhibitions, Huggins threw Kilicli into the fire. On Nov. 8 against Mountain State University, he had eight points and six rebounds in 18 minutes. On Dec. 5 against the University of Charleston, he started (instead of normal post
Big East teams should have tape of Kilicli soon enough. He's been waiting for this Pitt game since the fall, recently switching his countdown from days to hours as the big moment approaches. "It's just a little over 48 now," he excitedly said on Monday, and he's been doing everything he can to make the time pass, from playing his guitar, to extending his workouts, to sitting in WVU Coliseum, staring at empty seats, imagining what Wednesday night will be like. No one, not even Kilicli, is sure of what will happen. But we can all, at the very least, permit ourselves to be curious.