Kilicli identifies source of Coach Huggins' wrath
MORGANTOWN -- The boxscore shows that West Virginia didn't need Deniz Kilicli for more than 15 minutes Saturday night in a 20-point win against a 1-7 Division I team.
He started. He made all four of his shots and scored 13 points. He grabbed seven rebounds. The Mountaineers shot 54.5 percent and outrebounded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi by 11 in an 84-64 win.
In short, Kilicli pretty much personified the team in the first game of the Las Vegas Classic - and that's not a good thing.
"I didn't like what I did," he said. "I could have done that for the whole game."
He did not, though, because he was allowed to play five minutes in the first half before Coach Bob Huggins sat Kilicli on the bench and later told him he was not getting back in the game.
Huggins would relent and Kilicli made the most of the good tidings by going 3-for-3, dunking once and rebounding four missed shots after halftime. Kilicli was nothing in the second half that he was in the first.
"Deniz was awful," Huggins said. "It's one thing when you miss shots or do this or do that, but Deniz didn't give us any effort. But I gave him another chance because up until that point, other than a couple bad days early on, he's been pretty good. (Saturday) he wasn't good. His mind wasn't there."
Huggins would extend that to cover other parts of his team, which won a third straight game to start preliminary play in the Las Vegas Classic.
The Mountaineers (7-2) play host to Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. tonight at the WVU Coliseum before traveling to Las Vegas to play Missouri State on Thursday and No. 6 Baylor on Friday (9 p.m., ESPN).
In addition to Kilicli's two turnovers to precede his early exit, senior Kevin Jones played six minutes in the first half before taking a seat with two fouls. Senior Truck Bryant was 2-for-7. Huggins used five freshmen together for stretches and the halftime lead was just 32-28.
Huggins was making a point to the regulars who were to be reminded their playing time isn't guaranteed - and to the reserves who discovered there were reasons they don't play too often.
"I'm a big believer that you get what you earn," Huggins said.
Although he said he was unaware, Kilicli had learned actually what earned his seat. Following last week's win against Miami, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound junior from Istanbul, Turkey, was asked about one animated conversation he and Huggins had in the first half.
Kilicli said he wasn't sure what was said and then explained why.
"It comes to a point that I know what I'm doing most of the time and I know I screwed up," he said. "So I mute it because the stuff that's going to come out, I don't take it very well."
That made its way to Huggins during finals week at WVU and Kilicli said that was part of the ire Huggins aimed at him in the first half.
"He was furious," Kilicli said. "What happened after I messed up in the first half is he said, 'Oh, you don't listen? OK, cool. Sit there.' "
Kilicli was puzzled and wasn't sure what his coach was talking about, but he watched the team struggle throughout the rest of the half. The two spoke during halftime. Kilicli said Huggins told him what he meant and said he'd read it in the newspaper. Kilicli said he tried to explain that what Huggins identified wasn't what Kilicli meant.
After the game, Kilicli said he doesn't ignore Huggins, but instead filters out the harsh parts and focuses on the most constructive elements.
"What I meant by that was I don't listen to the censored part," he said. "I get the point and then I move on. I don't really think about why he's yelling at me or anything. I get the point he wants me to get. I listen to that. The other stuff I cut out."
Huggins, in his own way, agreed with Kilicli's assessment.
"Deniz acts like we have this language barrier and we really don't," Huggins said. "Deniz understands exactly what I'm saying."
During a timeout early in the second half, the two had another long conversation and Kilicli said the issue was put to rest.
"I said, 'I don't care about this game right now. I care about what you think about me,' " Kilicli said. "I care about Huggs more than anything, more than the game. I wanted to play, but I wasn't worried about that."
Huggins put Kilicli back in the game soon thereafter and Kilicli was a much different, much better player. He was who he had been for the previous five games. After starting the season shooting 10-for-28, he's gone 30-for-48 in the next six and has shot better than 50 percent in each.
Kilicli also has scored in double figures in every game this season, a personal-best streak, as he's built career-high scoring (12.2), rebounding (6.8) and shooting averages (52.6). This past offseason was also the first he's spent on campus after spending the previous two summers in Turkey, fulfilling obligations to the national team.
His strength and conditioning were much farther ahead to begin this season and he's advanced faster. Kilicli spends about a half-hour every day working with a manager on his balance and he's now far more effective posting up and scoring near the basket.
"It's so obvious how much everything has changed," he said. "It's all about putting time into whatever you're weak at. I was weak at some stuff I couldn't do last year so I worked on those things. They're still not great, but they don't stink like they used to."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142.