Relationship with Huggins helped Kilicli in tough times
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 06:02
It hasn’t been the easiest senior season for West Virginia forward Deniz Kilicli.
For a stretch of games, the lone player remaining from the Mountaineers’ Final Four team in 2010 had lost his spot in the starting lineup. He played just six minutes in WVU’s 27-point loss on the road to Purdue.
He needed help.
So he went to the one person he had been able to turn to the most when things got tough during his career in Morgantown: his head coach, Bob Huggins.
"Everybody always sleeps on the airplane, and we don’t sleep," Kilicli said. "Sometimes I’ll just go up to him and be like, ‘This is what’s going on.’"
And things have started to turn around for the 6-foot-9 forward.
In the Mountaineers’ last five games, Kilicli has played more like the player Huggins and the rest of the team expected him to be earlier in the season. He’s averaging 15.2 points per game, while shooting 67 percent from the field.
He’s scored in double figures in four of those five games – including a career-high 25 points against Texas Tech – after scoring 10 or more points in just three of West Virginia’s previous 15 games.
Kilicli admits it was a tough funk to get out of, but seeing that Huggins continued to have faith in him helped him overcome those struggles.
"It was like a mental breakdown for me, and a lot of people tried to get me down," he said. "In the end, when everything was really bad, I talked to Huggs and Huggs picked me up.
"I don’t trust anybody else ... Once he trusts me, I don’t care whoever else does. I really don’t care."
Huggins knows his team needed Kilicli to be playing his best in order to try to get things turned around in the Mountaineers’ disappointing season.
Even as he was struggling, the veteran head coach made it a point to try to get his senior the ball as much as he could.
"How are we going to score without Deniz?" Huggins said. "He gets other people open because they have to help ... I think Eron Harris has been a recipient of Deniz making more than one guy have to guard him."
It does help that the two have been able to build such a good relationship over the last four years. They both know they can say what’s on their minds and Huggins is someone Kilicli can go to with any problems he has.
"Deniz and I have always had a really good relationship," Huggins said. "We had a good relationship when he didn’t speak English, and I didn’t know what the hell was saying."
During his four years in Morgantown, Kilicli said he has grown both on and off the court.
The maturity process that takes place with every college basketball player has turned the Istanbul, Turkey, native from a freshman who wouldn’t have been able to handle the difficult times he experienced in the early parts of this year into the one who was able to take it in stride and use it to get better.
"These are the things that happen in basketball," Kilicli said. "The difference between a developed, mature player and someone who’s just a kid is that you just know how to take it.
"You just go out there and play."
While some might have counted Kilicli out earlier in the year, Huggins isn’t surprised at all to see him come out of it stronger than ever.
"Everybody gets frustrated. I may be at the head of the class when it comes to frustration, but he’s not a quitter," Huggins said.
"That’s not Deniz."