heinnews’s David Hein spent plenty of time talking to basketball people at the U20 European Championship in Greece. And here is the final interview from the island of Rhodes, a chat with Turkish power forward/center Deniz Kilicli. They discussed Turkish youth national team’s problems in not winning medals, Turkish clubs’ advancing in European club competitions, U.S. high school and how West Virginia coach Bob Huggins turns players into beasts.

heinnews: Turkey are always known to have lots and lots of talent, especially at the youth levels. But it really hasn’t resulted in a lot of medals. Why do you think that is? What do you think is missing?
Kilicli: The problem is young players not playing in leagues. Some young players are playing in professional leagues in Serbia for example. If you look at Partizan, they’re really good and they have so many young players because of this. I think we (Turkey) have new teams going to the Euroleague and they don’t want to take young players because they are scared right now. But they’re growing. And when they grow like five years later or so, it’s gonna be much better. The young players are going to be much better – also at the EuroBasket. 

heinnews: What are your thoughts on more Turkish teams making it into European club competitions and going further?

Kilicli: If you look at five years before, there’s maybe one or two teams from Turkey. But now we can play with five foreign players in Turkey too. So it mixes the team with the foreign players and Turkish players. So it’s getting better and better. The Turkish teams see everybody and the Turkish federation is doing the same things as the Spanish and French federation and doing some changes. And club teams are getting better. Five years later it’s going to be even better.

heinnews: Last season you decided to go to the U.S. to go to preparatory high school for college. What brought on this decision?

Kilicli: I was playing at Efes Pilsen and I really wasn’t playing much. But I decided to go because first I wanted to play the American style. I talked to lots of people playing in NCAA and playing in European leagues and I think the American system is better fit for me. And I decided to go to the U.S. But everybody’s way is different. But I think that’s my way – to go to the U.S. And then come here (Europe). But it’s a little bit different now playing here. I come here and coach and the teammates I didn’t play with for one year. So it’s a little bit of a separation. But that’s the only thing I can say that the U.S. is not good for me about. 

heinnews: What did you benefit most from going there?

Kilicli: At the high school level, now if you ask me, some levels in the high school are a bit lower than here (Europe) and I played a top (high school) conference. When a European guy goes to the U.S. and plays there for high school, it’s not enough – practices and stuff. But when you go to college, college is different. I’m gonna go to college this year and I saw the organization and the players and their practice styles and everything is different. With a freshman college player if he came here to a (youth) European championship he would be too physical for here. I think that’s the biggest advantage that an American player, or a European player in America, can have. The American style is more physical.

heinnews: You chose to attend West Virginia, which is in the Big East conference with plenty of great teams and players from school like UConn and Pitt and others. And you went to a high school in West Virginia. Why did you choose West Virginia and what do you want to get out of that? 

Kilicli: (West Virginia head coach) Bob Huggins. Bob Huggins is a coach that can make you a beast. I always say that. Look at the players that he practiced with and worked with, Joel Alexander, Kenyon Martin, (Jason) Maxiell. I want to be like these guys. And I like him so much. I talk to him every day and now I think it doesn’t matter about the school. UCLA, West Virginia. They’re both good teams, UConn. But coaches are the biggest difference. That’s my style of coach so that’s why I went to West Virginia. 

heinnews: What’s one thing he said you need to work on while you are here at the U20s?
Kilicli: He thinks I’m soft. When I come here, everyone says, oh man you’re too tough. You’re strong. We don’t want to play against you. He said that’s my biggest handicap. He said you’re soft. You need to be a little stronger. He likes my touch. He thinks I have talent as a center or power forward. I need to be a little tougher and that’s the biggest thing.

heinnews: One of the biggest talents in Turkish basketball is Enes Kanter. How much contact do you have with him and what do you think of him and his future?

Kilicli: I lose a bit of my contacts when I go to America. It’s hard to connect with them with the time difference. We email a lot. I think he’s going to be a good, good player. He’s now 6-9, something like that. He needs shoot a little bit more. He’s in good shape. I think he’s going to be a very, very good player. And he’s dominating every age group. And he’s going to be a superb player.

heinnews: What about goals for you two three four years down the road?

Kilicli: First thing, for this year and the short term I’m gonna working on my shot because I think I can’t shoot. I need to get a little bit quicker. Now I am playing center but I want to be power forward because I am not that tall. I’m gonna work on this. But maybe in two, three, four years I want to be in the NBA or the Euroleague and play for the biggest clubs and play the biggest roles in those teams.

heinnews: What about for the national team?

Kilicli: I’ve been playing national team for the last five or six years and it’s been my most enjoyable times. So, I hope to play for the national team as long as I play basketball.

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