Capital Classic: Intrastate showdown will be just second for Kilicli
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.
"You have to watch it closer," Kilicli said. "Most of the time if you know the guys, you know what they're going to do. You don't have to really watch what's going to happen. With this team, so far I have to watch a little bit more what everyone else is going to do. We don't know each other that well, but that's getting better."
His trouble is visible in the box scores. His frustration is clear when he comes out of the game after two fouls in 2:15 and then stands along the bench the rest of the first half. Huggins sees it in other ways, too.
"Truth be known, we haven't passed the ball to him as well as we need to pass him the ball," Huggins said.
Kilicli has only taken more than eight shots once this season, but when Kilicli gets the ball Huggins sees a talented player muting his abilities.
"He does have a right hand," Huggins said, "and actually he's pretty good with it."
Kilicli is right-handed, but takes many of his shots with his left hand. He makes strong moves to the right and his left-handed hook and post shots are more accurate and have more range. Teams try to keep Kilicli from getting set up for that shot and from going right, but Kilicli still makes the move and takes the shot.
He and Huggins want more right-handed shots so he's harder to defend.
"I think a lot of times when you get pressure, you revert back to what you think you do best," Huggins said.
Kilicli, who doesn't always match opinions with Huggins, can't help but agree.
"It's a split-second thing in the post," he said. "You either turn right or turn left. Once I get more comfortable turning (left) more, I won't be as predictable as Huggs says."
It's coming, though, and the week off and the sudden emphasis suggests it may be soon, which would give opponents trouble. Kilicli even said he's tracked his shots and said he's scoring just as regularly with his right hand as he was in the past.
It's just not what opponents think of first and Huggins says that has to change. If Kilicli trusts certain skills Huggins knows he has, then it changes the way teams guard him and creates better scoring opportunities.
"He uses his right hand and it's terrific in practice," Huggins said. "He's very capable of backing out and making jump shots. He's certainly capable of going over his left shoulder and making shots. He's very capable of that. But he just has to do it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.