West Virginia University bulks up inside game
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- After serving a NCAA-mandated 20-game suspension, West Virginia freshman forward Deniz Kilicli is ready to prove himself for the first time Wednesday against Pitt.
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound native of Turkey is the tallest and heaviest player on the Mountaineers' roster. Because of that, he is expected to play significant minutes in his first collegiate game at WVU against the Panthers.
"We'll see how he does," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "They're always better when you don't have them than when you get them."
Huggins said he expects Kilicli to contribute defensively and expects him to be a strong rebounding force. He can also help out on offense if needed, the veteran coach said.
"I think he's the guy we can throw it to inside and can score, but he has to rebound the ball and defend for us," Huggins said. "If that can happen, he can help us."
The NCAA determined Kilicli violated an amateurism rule by playing on a Turkish team with a professional player during the 2007-08 season, which is illegal under NCAA rules.
Because of the suspension, Kilicli hasn't traveled with the team. Instead, he's had to watch WVU's games on television. He said being away from his teammates has been the most frustrating part of the suspension.
"When they are gone, I'd just sit in the dorm and wait for them to come back," Kilicli said.
When the team was out of town, he would work on his game alone before they returned. He also watched tape from this year's games and from older players with similar size. When he was tired of all of that, Kilicli played some "old school rock" on his guitar, which he's been playing for 12 years.
"My teammates were great about keeping me involved, but you still feel bad because you're not there," Kilicli said. "It was so hard to watch them on TV."
While he was waiting for his suspension to finish, Kilicli was able to analyze the differences between the overseas game and games in the Big East Conference.
"It's physical. It's not like people are running back and forth. We've got to have a big man inside," Kilicli said. "But with the finesse game I learned overseas, I've learned to mix both of them."
Last year, playing at Mountain State Academy in West Virginia, Kilicli said he wasn't physical or fast enough but believes he's improved in both areas.
He admits the nerves he feels the first time he takes the court could affect him Wednesday against Pitt, though.
"My body's ready, but in the game, the physical stuff is 10 percent, the rest is all mental," Kilicli said. "I know the first couple of minutes, I will be so tired and out of breath because I'll be nervous or out of breath. After that you get used to it, and I'll get used to it."