By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
He is the center of attraction now, this giant of a man named Deniz Kilicli, which should really be nothing new.
Ever since he walked on the campus at West Virginia University from Istanbul, Turkey, by way of Mountain State University, he has been the center of attention, standing 6-feet, 9-inches tall, his weight surpassing 230, heavily tattooed, muscular, bearded, a sensitive tough guy who played the guitar in local clubs and, of course, a Mountaineer basketball player.
But on the court he was a complementary figure, playing in the shadow of Da’Sean Butler, then Kevin Jones.
This was to be his year. With Butler having moved from player to coach, with Jones off to the NBA, this was to be his team. He was the leader, the go-to guy, and he seemed perfectly capable of handling it.
Then they began playing, and it turned out something seemed lacking in his game, that it hadn’t grown into the go-to game coach Bob Huggins had pictured. Last year he had averaged 10.7 points a game, and that was supposed to grow into the 17 or 19 or so that the Mountaineers got from Jones.
Instead he averages 9.4 points a game, and his participation is down by four minutes a game, in part due to foul trouble.
During an interview in preparation for tonight’s Capital Classic showdown with Marshall, Huggins was asked his theory on why Kilicli’s production had not grown as expected.
“He’s the focus of the defense now and wasn’t before,” Huggins answered. “They worry about guarding him close to the basket. Before they worried about guarding K.J. Now he is the focal point of what to stop.”
And it’s working. The reason it is working, according to Huggins, is because Kilicli has not done what’s necessary to counter the attention he’s getting.
“Quite frankly, Deniz doesn’t use everything he has,” Huggins said. “Hopefully that has sunk in with him.”
And just what hasn’t Kilicli integrated into his game?
“He does have a right hand,” Huggins said. While Kilicli does shoot his hook shot mostly left-handed, he says because he has more range, he shoots his other shots right-handed and actually is right-handed in life.
“He used it terrific in practice the last couple of weeks,” Huggins continued. “What’s more, he is capable of backing out and making jump shots.”
He just doesn’t do it, and teams have noticed that and actually back far off him in 3-point range, daring him to shoot the 3. Why doesn’t he?
“He likes to stay in the game,” Huggins answered, drawing a laugh but being somewhat serious. “Why would you want him shooting a 3 early in the shot clock? Look at numbers; there’s a reason.”
Kilicli understands what Huggins is talking about, that his inside game and hook shot have become the first priority of teams to stop.
He, however, sees that as a positive, not a negative.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “I like to pass the ball. Whenever I’m doubled, I like to find guys. Last year I loved it every time they doubled me because I could find Truck (Bryant) or someone else, and they make shots and get us going.”
He used last year’s game against Miami as an example.
“The Miami game, they decided to double me in the middle of the game. That’s the game Truck scored 30 or 35. It opens up a lot of things for other people.”
In reality, Bryant scored 27 points, but you get the point. Miami did.
The problem is that this is more of a patchwork team with two transfer starters in Aaric Murray and point guard Juwan Staten, and it is a team that hasn’t worked enough with each other yet for Kilicli to act instinctually.
“Last year I knew where Truck was going to be, where K.J. was, and where they liked to shoot. If you get that going, and I think it’s coming, things will get better,” Kilicli said. “The thing is they have to know me better and I have to know them better so I know where they are without looking at them.”
That will come, but it is going to take time, and WVU is going into a part of its schedule that could make or break the season with games against Marshall (4-3), a strong Virginia Tech team (7-0), at Duquesne (4-3) and in Brooklyn against John Beilein’s No. 3-ranked Michigan team (7-0).
And some of it falls back on Staten, the point guard, too, because he is new to the team and not sure where Kilicli will be or what he likes to shoot.
“Juwan is learning,” Huggins said. “It’s different in practice and in the game. He’s learning who is supposed to come open, what the progression is. He is not near what he’s going to be.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.