Big 12 Campus Correspondent
For Deniz Kilicli, the 13-hour flight from Istanbul, Turkey, to the United States meant a world of change was about to be thrust upon him. After playing in a series of international tournaments, he found himself in Dallas playing in a tournament sponsored by adidas.
"I thought every place was going to be like (Dallas), but I ended up in Beckley (W.Va.), and I was like 'we'll see how it goes, but I don't think I'm going to stay here very long.'"
Coming to America to play basketball was great, but with his parents thousands of miles away, the adjustment wasn't an easy on at first. Despite the struggles of being in a new country and not knowing any of the language, Deniz worked his way through high school.
"It is a hard thing for a 17-year old to get away from his family and live in America when you don't know a lick of English, to try to do math, to try to read Beowulf and (Shakespeare's) Macbeth," said Kilicli with a wide smile on his face.
He found himself at WVU, and he made the transition a lot easier on himself because he is such an outgoing person with a free-spirited personality. That, Kilicli said, is something that has never changed about him - he likes talking to people.
"What I value is that I'm able to talk to a lot of people. I can just talk to anybody, and that's the most important thing for me," noted Kilicli. Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins agrees.
This is Deniz's fourth year in the Mountaineer program, and Huggins noticed Kilicli's laid-back personality from the beginning.
"He's got a great personality, and he's fun to be around," said Huggins. "I enjoy sitting around talking to Deniz. He's very insightful, and he brings a whole different perspective because of his background."
Kilicli's international experience has brought a new dimension to the Mountaineers. Deniz has visited more than 20 countries, but he admits landing in West Virginia has been one of the best things to happen to him.
"This is where I want to be, this is where I feel comfortable, more than back home," said Kilicli.
Deniz has returned home to Turkey two times in his four years with the Mountaineers, and as expected, he said leaving is the hardest part. His fun-loving personality, however, makes it hard to be sad or upset for long. He comes back to Morgantown to his friends, and his teammates that he considers brothers.
Deniz makes sure to enjoy his time on the Coliseum floor as much as possible, because it's the atmosphere he said, that he'll miss the most. With his college basketball career in its final months, Kilicli is working to find the delicate balance between looking toward the future, and enjoying where he is at now. So what's next for one of the most liked Mountaineers? At the end of his senior year, Deniz plans to test the waters in the NBA Draft, and depending on that outcome, he will explore the option of playing for a team somewhere overseas, an option he is not opposed to. He is willing to do anything it takes to be a professional basketball player.
"I want to play basketball for a living," said Kilicli. "I don't want to be a sociologist or an anthropologist, I don't want to be a history guy. I want to be a professional athlete. This is what I'm going to do all my life. Once I'm done with basketball, I'll probably try to coach somewhere."
With the future uncertain, Deniz is enjoying living his life and is certainly enjoying the ride. He'll try (almost) anything once, 'as long as it's safe,' joked Kilicli.
"Deniz is one of those guys, if there's four guys standing around that say 'hey, I've never bungee jumped,' Deniz is liable to bungee jump," said Huggins. "He enjoys experiencing a lot of things."
Assistant coach Erik Martin has also been around Deniz for four years, and knows Deniz's personality"He's extremely laid back," said Martin. "He's a four-year guy who has been through the wars. Deniz is a great kid, hasn't been any trouble at all."
For a guy who has traveled thousands of miles from home to pursue a game he loves, he's doing quite well in making a name for himself, leaving an impression on a state that he said has welcomed him with open arms.
"I'll be back here, even if I end up playing in Europe," said Kilicli. "I'll end up coming here and living here, without a doubt. The environment is great here, the people are great. I can do whatever I want to do here," said Kilicli.
The Mountaineers open Big 12 play when they play host to the Oklahoma Sooners on January 5 at 4pm., at the WVU Coliseum.