By Dave Morrison
Sometimes you can find out exactly what you want to know by being an innocent bystander.
When trying to find out exactly what kind of player Mountain State Academy’s Deniz Kilicli was, a UCLA assistant coach told the tale of the talent from Turkey.
“He is more skilled than Kevin Love,” the Bruins assistant said Friday after MSU’s practice at Van Meter Gymnasium. “They’re different type players, but he is more skilled than Kevin.”
And that spoke volumes.
Love, of course, was an NBA lottery pick after his freshman season at UCLA.
Word apparently travels fast.
Despite being in the states for only three weeks, Kilicli has already received visits from West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as UCLA, Oklahoma, LSU and N.C. State. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and Kentucky’s Billy Gillespie were at Van Meter Gymnasium in person.
“I am surprised,” Kilicli, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound senior, said. “But I came here because I wanted to improve my basketball and my grades. In Europe, I didn’t see that (kind of attention). I am a good player. But now I will be a better player.”
Which is exactly what MSU Academy coach Rob Fulford is hoping.
“Not that he needs a lot of improving because he is as skilled as any big man I’ve ever seen,” Fulford said of the 17-year-old power forward who turns 18 on Oct. 23. “In the U.S., you get a lot of physical players, which he is. But you don’t see guys as skilled as he is.
“He is physically dominating. He can score with either hand and he is a great rebounder. He can also pull up and hit the three on the break, which is a trademark of European players. He has it all. I think he’ll be in the NBA. I think he’s a two-year college guy, max.”
Kilicli came from a basketball family. His father and uncle both played basketball in Turkey.
“I remember watching the NBA games with my father,” Kilicli said. “We would wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning to watch the Bulls and Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan had no handicap. He could guard centers, he could guard little men, guards, and he could guard forwards. He could do anything he wanted to do.”
Kilicli readily admits he wants to play in the NBA.
“Anything I do, I want to be at the top,” he said. “If I play volleyball with my teammates, I want to win. I want to play in the NBA. That is why I am here, to be at the top.”
Fulford said Kilicli is part of the puzzle that he is close to completing.
“We have said from the beginning we want to be an elite program,” Fulford said. “I found out about Deniz from a guy in Chicago. Could he have gone to an established program? Probably. But sometimes guys want to come in to a building program and set the tone.
“I can tell you this. He has created a serious buzz. We have had several big programs in, just this week. And Sunday, Connecticut and Duke are going to be here. My phone has literally been blowing up.”
Fulford said the academy will play three state schools this year — triple-A Logan, George Washington and John Marshall in the Hoops Classic at the Charleston Civic Center. The Falcons also face Oak Hill Academy’s travel team, coached by Steve Smith, at the Beckley-Raleigh County Civic Center on Tuesday, Nov. 11.
— E-mail: demorrison@