"I'm really excited," said Kilicli on the day before his "real game" debut. "It's going to be a great game I think. It's going to be packed. I'm just waiting for it to happen."
Kilicli was suspended for playing on a team in his native country of Turkey that included a professional player. This caused the freshman to be suspended for 20 games by the NCAA, although he had no knowledge of the rule at the time. Kilicli did get the opportunity to participate in the Mountaineers' two exhibition games against Mountain State University and the University of Charleston. In the latter, nearly two months agon on Dec. 5, he started the game and scored an impressive 18 points.
Other than that, Kilicli has been forced to sit on the bench and only perform in practice. He has not been permitted to travel to away games with the team, which admittedly gnawed at him when he watched on television. Kilicli sat out for the final game of his suspension on Saturday when the Mountaineers pulled off a victory from behind against the Louisville Cardinals.
"Actually, [sitting out] wasn't that bad," admitted Kilicli. "In the first games, it was bad because you have like 20 or 18 [games to go]. In the Louisville game, I was excited and was thinking that I would get to play in the next game."
Obviously, Kilicli realizes that there will be big adjustments when he is thrown into the game on Wednesday against Pittsburgh, a team known for their physicality. Also, players and coaches agree that the only way a player can get into game shape is to play in a game, so it will take Kilicli a little while to build up the stamina of the other players.
"In practice, you can stop and coach tells you something but in a game you just have to go from offense into defense," said Kilicli. "It's going to be hard to stay strong for a few minutes. It's going to be a little hard but I think I will be alright."
During the first half of the season, the friendly freshman worked as a cheerleader and sometimes a disciplinarian on the bench for his teammates during the game, but from now on, he will be the one getting yelled at and praised – just like his fellow teammates.
"Sitting on the bench is hard because you can't do anything," said Kilicli. "You can watch the plays and yell at your teammates. Now I'm going to be in that position and I'm going to mess up sometimes. It's going to be different. I'm an inside guy. "I'm going to try to go inside and do my thing. Score a couple of points and get a couple of rebounds."
More than anything, the Mountaineers are pleased to finally be getting what they hope will be the final piece of their puzzle on the court – and to allow everyone else to see what they have been seeing in practice all along.
"I think we're all happy for Deniz – that it's over with and he gets to play," said head coach Bob Huggins. "I think he's going to help us, but you don't know until you put guys in. You don't know until they're really in there. He's shown the ability to score for us. He should be a good rebounder and he's shown the ability at times to block shots and he's got great size."
Senior forward Wellington Smith, who often faces off against Kilicli in practice, is excited for an opponent to have to deal with the lethal defense that the freshman has been putting on his this season.
"I can't wait [for Kilicli's debut]," said senior forward Wellington Smith. "Having to deal with Deniz every day in practice -- he's like 270 pounds now -- so finally someone else can deal with him. He can bully someone else. He's done a great job preparing. He's done a great job listening to Coach and just knowing that his day will come. Now it's finally here."
Although it has undoubtedly been extremely difficult for Kilicli to miss so many games, it is hard to think of a better game to make your debut in than the home game of the Backyard Brawl. Kilicli recognizes the importance of the battles with the Panthers and is excited to be a part of it.
"When I first came here, people told me that Pitt was the big game and I had to play," said Kilicli. "[They said] when you go up there it's going to be packed and people are going to be yelling and it will be crazy. It's awesome [to come back during the Pitt game]. It's almost like it was a set up thing."