Of all the highly-touted prospects in the Class of 2009, perhaps none is as intriguing as Mountain State Academy's Deniz Kilicli. A native of Turkey, Kilicli has parlayed an impressive showing at the 2008 adidas Nations Experience into a slew of big-time collegiate offers.
Kilicli will suit up for Rob Fulford's Falcons in 2008-09 alongside 2010 WVU commit Noah Cottrill and a host of other Division I prospects. Preseason practices at the Beckley, W.Va.-based school have been observed by coaches from UCLA, West Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina State just to name a few. Each of those schools has offered the forward prospect.
Growing up in Turkey, basketball played second fiddle to soccer as is the case throughout much of the world. Making the transition from a soccer-first sports culture to a hoops-heavy town such as Beckley has been a lot of fun, according to Kilicli himself.
"Oh yeah. I'm having a lot of fun," Deniz (pronounced ‘Dennis') told BlueGoldNews.com following a recent practice. "This is the best place for me. I can improve myself and improve my basketball. I'm doing good here, really good. Maybe it's because of the environment. People like basketball here. The coaches, style of game, and everything is just perfect for me. I am having fun."
Who wouldn't have fun with the amount of major college attention Kilicli is receiving? A skilled prospect who can play inside or outside, Kilicli has a rare combination of size and shooting ability.
Hmmm…a native Turk with size and shooting ability. Sound familiar? It should. Turkey has produced a pair of current NBA stars that feature that combination. Hedo Turkoglu of the Orlando Magic stands at 6-10 and owns a career three-point percentage of .391. Turkoglu was named the NBA's Most Improved Player at the conclusion of the 2007-08 season.
Mehmet Okur of the Utah Jazz also hails from Turkey. Okur, a 6-11 power forward/center, was named to the Western Conference All-Star team in 2007, and holds a career scoring average of 13.4 points per game.
Both players starred for Istanbul's Efes Pilsen – Kilicli's favorite Turkish Basketball League club – in Deniz's youth. Of the two, Kilicli's game is most comparable to that of Okur, though he is quick to point out that his game is not purposefully patterned after any particular player.
"I grew up watching him," he said of Okur. "I like the way he plays. I like his style of play, even though he is a little bit taller than me. I like his game, but it isn't my game. I take so many things from him, from shooting or moves or face-up moves. But I'm a little bit shorter than him.
"I look at disadvantages for other players and I try to turn them into advantages."
Sometime in the future, Kilicli may return to his homeland to suit up for Efes Pilsen or another TBL club. For now, however, he has his sights set on playing at the highest level of college basketball.
"When I came here, I didn't think that (college coaches) would come and see me like they have been," he explained. "That was my goal, though. It was my first goal. I reached that first goal, but that is just the first goal for me.
"I came here because in Europe, there is nothing like that," he continued. "There isn't college basketball. When they come here and see me it is good motivation for me. It is really, really good. It's a good situation."
On the court, Deniz is definitely a menace which opposing teams much deal with on both ends of the court. Aside from the aforementioned shooting ability, Kilicli runs the floor well and brings tenacity to both the offensive and defensive glass. Kilcli possesses above average athleticism, though he must continue to improve his lateral quickness.
The style – or styles, as it has turned out – of play he has encountered since coming to the states is different from what he is used to coming from Europe. The biggest difference may be the fact that there is not just one set style of play, rather many different styles.
"The game is global now, and everyone tries to play something different each time, you know?" Kilicli explained. "In America, the game is faster and the players are a lot more athletic than they are overseas. I think that this is the best place for me. I like to play physical, and they play more physically and faster over here. That is my game."
If and when he does return home, the game he loves will certainly have grown in his native land just as it has been for many years. While soccer is still the thriving and popular sport in Turkey, the visibility and popularity of basketball continues to grow at an exponential rate.
"When I was a little kid, it was nothing like it is now. We had three big stadiums," Kilicli recalled. "Now, they are trying to build more stadiums, bigger stadiums for bigger crowds. The number of basketball fans now is growing and growing. In the schools, they now play basketball. Ten years ago or 15 years ago, they didn't. All they played was soccer. Now, they play basketball too."
For now, Kilicli is having a great time at his new home in southern West Virginia.
"This is my home now," he beamed. "Beckley is a little bit small, but now everybody knows me in Beckley. It's good for me. I'm working hard in here and I'm doing my work. It's good for me."