I love playing basketball. I still play when I can. Playing it as much as I have makes the game fundamentally easier to understand when you watch it. Which brings me to Saturday’s great win over a Cincinnati team that probably deserved to get a shot at a victory at the end of the game after Kevin Jones’s phantom time-out call. No matter. Every couple of years, the officials blow a call in the Mountaineers’s favor. Considering how often those calls don’t go our way, I’ll accept it when it does.
You can read plenty about the game in plenty of places - here’s a great live-blog if that’s your thing, and here’s a proper recap if you’d prefer that instead - so instead, I simply want to talk about Deniz Kilicli’s no-look pass to a cutting Truck Bryant. You can see it here.
That is, simply stated, the best pass I can ever remember a Mountaineer player throwing. I’m certain there have been other great assists; I won’t doubt that for even a second. Kilicli has always been a bit of an enigma. Never quite what we thought he’d be, even when he has shown flashes. He gets dumb fouls. He doesn’t get angry enough. He doesn’t control the game in the way that we imagine he might be capable of. Frankly, we’re waiting for the Joe Alexander moment, a phenomenon of Bob Huggins coaching in a which a player suddenly recognizes how good they can be. We already had one of those earlier this season, when Kevin Jones seemingly murdered Kansas State all by himself. Since that game, Jones has brought the pain against everybody, crashing the boards and restraining his shot selection to the ones he can reliably make (the put backs, the baby-hooks, the open threes, the baseline jumpers). The notion of two players in a single season having the same epiphany is almost too much to imagine.
But in that one play Saturday, Kilicli seemed to instantaneously realize that he was going to draw a double team on the high post and that somebody was going to be open. The response was immediate; it was similar in a way to what Pau Gasol did yesterday against the Pacers. It was similar to passes Arvydas Sabonis used to throw. (Sabonis was so good.)
The point isn’t that Kilicli is comparable to either of those two players, but knowing enough to know that somebody is open somewhere on the floor is as useful a weapon as I can imagine. And Kilicli, for all of his faults, has always been a better passer than he’s gotten credit for. Which starts the dreaming…
Suppose it dawns on Kilicli that the double-team is coming whenever he gets the ball on either the high or low post. Suppose he realizes that he can be just as effective throwing beautiful passes to cutting players as he is with his occasionally deadly baby-hook. Were he to more aggressively get position and the ball, and then have the ability to keep defenders worrying that he was either going to take a makable shot or pass to an open man, he would become far less easy to guard. That he can shoot those baby-hooks with either hand is simply bonus.
It is more likely that Kilicli realizes what he is capable of next season; players seem to have this revelation in their last year at the school. Both Alexander and Jones have fully realized their potential during final seasons (Alexander left early). I’d obviously like Kilicli to figure this out now. But whenever it does happen - and I’m relatively certain that it will - it’ll be exciting to watch.
This is a point I wanted to make somewhere else in the post. I have played a lot of basketball in my life, and I remember great passes more than I remember any great shots. They’re that pivotal to the game.
Sabonis was so, so good.