Coming to a new country and revamping your game is a huge double challenge. Either of those tasks would put many into a state of uncertainty. But Deniz Kilicli, a native of Turkey with eyes on a basketball career, has handled the upheaval well.
Moving to Beckley, W. Va., and the newly-minted Mountain State Academy, Kilicli has not only been working to add an American style to his game, but also has adjusted well to the new culture he encountered in the states.
"On the court, the game is just faster than Europe. I've been running after practice and jumping rope. I am trying to get a little faster. But it's easier to play here if you are 6-9 and can shoot.
"The adjustments off the court haven't been too hard. In West Virginia, everyone has been really nice. I can talk with anybody. After a week, it was like home to me.
[Parents of my teammates] have helped me a lot, too," he added. "I am staying with one of my friend's family, and they are very good to me. I am missing home, sure, but they have helped me with that."
Kilicli's work on speed and mobility was evident in MSA's 99-67 over Logan. He sprinted up and down the court, even after made baskets. He filled the lane smartly on fast breaks, and had the highlight play of the night when he took a sweet dish from current and future teammate Noah Cottrill for a monster two-handed dunk. To be sure, he still has work to do, especially on the defensive end, where his instincts and reactions are still more European than American, but the improvement since the start of the season is noticeable.
"I think I am better on defense since I can run," said Kilicli, who laughed as head coach Rob Fulford walked by and gave him a quizzical look. "Maybe not good enough for Coach Rob yet. On offense, I have been impatient, but I am trying to get more physical and work on that."
Kilicli displayed a nice variety on the offensive end of the floor, hitting a pair of three-pointers to go along with a couple of dunks and some one-handed jump hooks in the lane. He catches the ball well, using big hands that cradle the ball softly, and showed nice shooting touch out to the three point line. He finished with 19 points and eight rebounds.
The 6-9 center's growing comfort in the U.S. is evident in every way, from his ease during interviews to his interactions with his teammates. During his brief bench stints during the game, he talked and joked with teammates, encouraged those on the floor, and paid close attention to his coaches' instructions. Even his English, which was quite good when he first came to the U.S., has improved since the start of the season.
Kilicli has tried to keep up with West Virginia during the season, but MSA's game and practice schedule has kept him from watching every contest. Still, he has seen as many games as he can, and envisions his future role at WVU.
"I try to catch them all, but Coach Rob's schedule is pretty opposite of WVU's schedule. I did see the Ohio State game and the Marquette game. I think I can fit in well there. The competition is good, and the conference is good, but it is going to be a good place for me."
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WVU assistant coach Billy Hahn took in the contest, as did former Mountaineer great Willie Akers.