The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

March 8, 2013

Kilicli set for final home game today

BECKLEY — The start of Deniz Kilicli’s career as a West Virginia University basketball player couldn’t have been any better.

After sitting out the first 20 games of the 2009-10 season, Kilicli came in and scored nine points in his first game, a prelude of things to come. In 15 games, he scored 52 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, going along for the ride as his team won the Big East Tournament championship and advancing to the Final Four.

The next season, the Istanbul, Turkey, native played an even bigger role. He scored double figures in seven games and averages a little more than six points per contest as the Mountaineers went back to the NCAA Tournament, won their first game against Clemson and then fell just short of the Sweet 16 with a narrow loss to Kentucky, the same team they beat to go to the Final Four the year before.

“I thought it was going to happen every year,” he said. “You get spoiled.”

But the final two years of Kilicli’s career, which will come to a close today when WVU (13-17, 6-11 Big 12) hosts Iowa State (20-10, 10-7) for the final regular season game, haven’t been quite the same.

He’s had some huge games, like the 22-point performance last year against Providence last year, and experienced some big wins — like taking down No. 9 Georgetown last season — but there have also been some rough patches both personally and for his team.

“I had a good run,” said Kilicli. “I went to the NCAA Tournament three times and the Final Four once. This year’s still going, and you never know what’s going to happen.

“It’s sad, actually. I don’t want to leave this place. It’s pretty awesome. The people are pretty cool, and it’s hard for me to leave here. This is home for me.”

The 6-foot-9 forward, who played his high school basketball at Mountain State Academy, hopes to make his final appearance at the WVU Coliseum a memorable one.

His parents, Ahmet and Dilek arrived in Morgantown Friday afternoon and will watch him play for the first time in college.

“I just want them to see it,” said Kilicli, who’s averaging 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game this season. “As much as I tell them about it, you’ve got to see this kind of stuff — all the people, the students and how much our fans show a passion about the Mountaineers. It’s an amazing place here, and they’re going to be shocked when they come here.

“They saw it on TV, but you have to be in here to experience it. “

Kilicli also has another “parent” he wants to please — Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins.

“He means so much to me,” said Kilicli. “He’s like my dad. That’s how I feel about him. I love him to death, and he did so much for me. It’s just one of those things that when I first saw him I knew how it was going to be. When I needed people the most, he was there for me. We have a different relationship than just a player and a coach.”

Huggins admitted he also has a special relationship with his big, bearded senior.

“Deniz has been probably one of my favorite guys,” said the veteran coach, who will complete just the third losing season of his career win or lose today. “I’ve never had a whole lot of European players — actually, I think he’s the first — but I just appreciate how he’s embraced West Virginia, the people of West Virginia and the culture. He loves West Virginia and loves the people, and I think really that’s what it’s all about.

“I wish that we could have surrounded him with more efficient perimeter players, at times. He’s had games where he’s played really well. He’s struggled through stretches, but he came back and didn’t quit. He didn’t lay down.”

Huggins said he’s had very few players he didn’t like during his career, but Kilicli is at a level above most.

“For whatever reason, you’re closer to some people than you are other people,” he explained. “Deniz and I have always had a great relationship and always been close. He tells a story about when he didn’t understand English and had no idea what I was saying, he liked me.”

Kilicli said he doesn’t know exactly what to expect when he walks down the carpet for the final time today, but he hopes to turn the emotion into a grand finale.

“It’s going to be emotional. I I love the fans and it’s going to be so hard for me to leave Huggs.

“I’m an emotional player anyway, and I play off of emotion.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

 

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