CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Deniz Kilicli will play his final Capital Classic tonight, but West Virginia's senior forward from Turkey has played Marshall just once before.
Kilicli missed last year's game with a sprained ankle. He sat out in 2010 as part of his 20-game NCAA suspension as a freshman. On some level, the Thundering Herd (5-3) doesn't quite know what to do with Kilicli in tonight's 7:30 p.m. game against the Mountaineers (2-3) at the Civic Center.
There's plenty of tape on Kilicli and his skills and exploits, but it's a mixed sample and the variables are still changing.
"Everything is new," he said, "not just some players."
Third-year Coach Tom Herrion has seen Kilicli in person twice. In 2010, he was an assistant coach at Pitt and Kilicli made his debut against the Panthers with nine points on 4-for-4 shooting in seven minutes.
A year later, Herrion was leading the Thundering Herd and Kilicli, who started most of the season, came off the bench and had eight points on 4-for-10 shooting in 21 minutes.
Kilicli started all 32 games he played last season and averaged 26.6 minutes, 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds while making half of his shots. Yet that Kilicli is a different player than the one who's transitioned with new surroundings this season.
His numbers have dipped and his role has changed.
"I think really, in all honesty, he's the focus of the defense now and he wasn't before," Coach Bob Huggins said. "I think everyone comes in now worried about guarding Deniz close to the basket."
That was not the case playing with Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and other more reliable and potent scoring options in the past. And even though he was never that guy, he was elevated to that role almost by default this season.
Jones and Bryant are gone. Transfers Juwan Staten, Aaric Murray and Matt Humphrey, as well as freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, are new. Freshman Volodymyr Gerun is eligible to play Saturday against Virginia Tech when his six-game NCAA suspension ends.
Among returning players Dominique Rutledge, Kevin Noreen, Gary Browne, Aaron Brown, Keaton Miles and Jabarie Hinds, only Hinds and Brown were known to score, though their efforts were occasional.
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Kilicli averages 9.4 points and is shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and is only playing 22.2 minutes, thanks to foul trouble in three games.
"He's the one everyone wants to stop, but quite frankly, Deniz doesn't use everything that he has," Huggins said. "I think, hopefully, that's kind of sunk in with him now that he's spent more time working on some other things that he's pretty good at."
Kilicli's responsibility and the results are not the only things changing, though. There are demands to become a better player, but there is also the need to know who he's playing with now, too.
Kilicli has never played with a center like the 6-10 Murray. He's never been fed passes and set up for offense by a player like Staten.