The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 3, 2010

Fulford pulling for Kilicli

Turk’s former coach at Mountain State a Duke fan, but not tonight

MORGANTOWN — When West Virginia power forward Deniz Kilicli prepped at Mountain State Academy last year, it was pretty much a running joke among the players about then-coach Rob Fulford’s overt love of Duke and all things Coach K.

“Coach really liked Duke,” the 6-foot-9 Kilicli said. “A lot. Too much.”

Now that West Virginia (31-6) is playing Duke (33-5) in the Final Four tonight (8:45 p.m., CBS) in Indianapolis with a berth in the national championship game riding on the outcome, what is his former coach’s thoughts?

“I’m going to have to call him and find out,” Kilicli said. “I would hope that he is pulling for us, since I am his former player.”

Rest easy, big man.

“I can’t root against my boy Deniz,” Fulford, now at Huntington Prep, said. “I always root for West Virginia, I’m a West Virginia boy (from Mullens). Yes, I am a Duke fan. But I can’t root for them in this game.”

Fulford also believes Kilicli will be a factor tonight, with Duke’s assortment of bigs inside.

“Duke is more physical and they have some size inside,” Fulford said. “What I’m looking forward to is a fast-break opportunity when Deniz and (Brian) Zoubek are side-by-side and see who wins that footrace down the floor.”

Fulford was kidding, of course.

But it was no joking matter for the native of Istanbul, Turkey, when he was forced to sit out West Virginia’s first 20 games because he played on a team back home which had a paid player on the roster.

“That was hard, it took away half my season from me,” Kilicli said. “But a rule is a rule. When you come from Turkey and you come to the United States, you understand there are rules. It’s just something I had to do. Yes, it hurt my game. It set me back.”

He ended up watching his teammates on the Internet in the international students dorm, when the Internet was working.

“That was huge,” Fulford said of the unfortunate ruling. “You don’t know how much time he missed working with the first team. He was probably just on the scout team. It was a blow, and quite honestly, an unfair blow. But Deniz handled it well.”

Kilicli returned for the final 17 games. He appeared in 14 and averaged 3.4 points, hitting 50-percent of his shots.

He started his career hitting his first four shots and then he had six points in WVU’s Sweet 16 win over Washington, all in the first half.

He normally doesn’t play near the end of games because of his admitted lack of understanding of WVU’s defense and his lack of rebounding (just 13 in those 14 games).

“I know I have to rebound better, on the offensive end and the defensive end, and I have to improve my foot speed and understanding of the defense,” Kilicli said. “And I am working on that.”

“Defense and rebounding are more of a want-to mentality,” Fulford said. “Deniz can score, and everybody understands that. If you look at the reasons he doesn’t play late in games, those are the same things we stressed. One advantage of playing at a school like (Mountain State) is we had to play him, we didn’t have another player like that. He had to play through it.”

That’s obviously not the case in Morgantown, where playing through mistakes is not an option.

“But the kid has such a huge upside it’s ridiculous,” Fulford said.

Kilicli said he often thinks about his first West Virginia home.

“When I first got there, it was strange because I grew up in a city (Istanbul) which is like a little New York,” Kilicli said. “When I got there, it was like all woods around the town. But I made a lot of great friends there and my host family was great to me. I miss all the people in Beckley.”

“Deniz had a great support system at Mountain State,” Fulford said. “The Colemans (John and Valerie) were great with Deniz. I think once he got adjusted to being away, he really fell in love with the place, with his host family and with American basketball.”

And for one night, at least, he is pulling at least one Duke fan away from his love of the Blue Devils.

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