Kilicli was required to return to his native country to play for the Turkish National Team last summer, robbing him the opportunity to workout and bond with his Mountaineer teammates.
“I gained 10 pounds extra and it was just frustrating mentally because I really couldn’t play because we couldn’t get along with the coach,” Kilicli said before practice last week. “My style was different and people really didn’t like me that much, I guess, and I really couldn’t play. It didn’t set me back, but it frustrated me, so it wasn’t a really good summer.”
And when Kilicli was back in Turkey virtually no one knew about his experience participating in the Final Four for WVU last spring.
“They don’t like to talk about that stuff. They don’t really care either,” he explained. “They don’t watch college basketball. The only thing they care about is if I’m going to come and do what they say or if I’m going to say something back to them. I really don’t want to talk about that stuff because I’m just going to (get mad).”
It seems like good fortune is bound to come Kilicli’s way sooner or later. If you recall, last year the NCAA required that Kilicli sit the first 20 games of the season because he unknowingly played with professional players for a team in Turkey, giving him just a 15-game freshman season. Then, he was forced to return to Turkey instead of working out with strength and conditioning coordinator Andy Kettler and getting physically ready for his sophomore season.
Both experiences have somewhat delayed his development in the Mountaineer program.
“If you are strong enough you will get through stuff like that. It was nothing,” he explained. “I sat 20 games and I had a bad summer, that’s it. But I am a lucky kid to come here from Turkey. There are people out there who don’t know their mother or their father. I don’t think it’s really a bad thing. It helped me a lot because mentally I got tougher. I know how to handle stuff now.”
For Kilicli, “handling stuff” usually means he bangs out a few riffs on his electric guitar.
“If we have a hard practice or we have bad days, or I have a bad day, that’s what I do. I go play guitar. That’s my therapy. When I feel something I just go play guitar,” he said.
Kilicli did get to spend a couple of weeks with Kettler in Morgantown between the first and second summer sessions before returning to finish out his summer in Turkey.
“It was the end of summer workouts so everybody was home and I worked out with Coach Kettler. I did mostly cardio and conditioning stuff,” he said. “I dropped like 15 pounds. I hated it but right now this is fine because I feel great, I move a lot better; I’m quicker and I run faster.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins says Kilicli has had days in practice this fall when he’s looked dominant, and then others when he’s not been so dominant.
“We’ve just got to get him more consistent because he is a talented guy,” said Huggins.
What Huggins is looking for is more rebounding from his 6-foot-9-inch, 270-pound center.
“He didn’t get easy rebounds before and now he’s getting some hard rebounds, so I think he’s rebounding the ball much better,” Huggins said. “He’s is rebounding a lot better at the offensive end, for sure.”
Kilicli admits he’s still learning how to rebound because he was never really asked to do it that much in the past.
“That wasn’t my style. It’s funny but I never really got much (offense) from rebounding when I was playing back home,” he said. “The maximum rebounds I would get were like five or six. Now I realize it’s another weapon in the offense and it’s really great for a big guy if he can rebound and run. That really helps the team.”
Rebounding will ultimately determine how much playing time Kilicli gets this year, even though he is probably one of the most gifted offensive centers in the Big East.
“Rebounding is the biggest issue for me,” he admitted. “I was really frustrated about it last year because I really couldn’t do it. But in the offseason when I went back to Turkey, I just focused on rebounding. In our first scrimmage (this fall) I got like nine rebounds so I think it’s going to get better and it’s getting better.”
The rest of Kilicli’s game appears to be going smoothly.
“Other than that, running up and down the floor, scoring and everything ? it’s only going to get better if I work hard, so that’s what I’m doing,” he said.
Mountaineer basketball fans will get their first opportunity to see Kilicli and his teammates Friday night at the WVU Coliseum when West Virginia takes on Division II UNC Pembroke in a 7 p.m. exhibition game.
WVU opens the season on Friday, Nov. 12 against Oakland in a 9 p.m. game that will be televised on ESPN3.com.
Oakland won the Summit Conference last year and advanced to the NCAA tournament. The Golden Grizzlies were picked to win the league title this season, garnering 29 out of 34 first place votes in the conference’s annual poll of coaches, SIDs and media.
By John Antonik
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