Deniz Kilicli's happiness as a freshly minted West Virginian extends beyond basketball.
Even after an injury-plagued season that ended on some discouraging notes, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Mountaineer forward has reason to be upbeat.
"I love West Virginia. If you're trying to do anything for this state, people really appreciate that. That's what I love,'' Kilicli said Monday evening at West Virginia University's 2012 Charleston Scholarship Dinner at the Civic Center.
Kilicli and about 20 other Mountaineer athletes, as well as basketball coach Bob Huggins and football coach Dana Holgorsen, participated in the fund-raiser, chatting with fans, signing autographs and posing for photographs during a social gathering in the lobby. The dinner took place later in the Civic Center banquet room.
The Istanbul, Turkey, native, who will be a senior this fall, attended high school at Mountain State Academy in Beckley before enrolling at West Virginia. He quickly took a liking to the state's people.
"This is a great place for me, man,'' he said. "More than anything, it's the people and how they treated me. I wasn't from here. It's how they treated me when I first came here and how they still treat me. This state has something. Whoever comes here, it doesn't matter whether they're from Ohio or New York or wherever, they kind of get an ownership of the state because of the people.''
He's already planning a future as a state resident. After what he hopes will be a lengthy professional career, he expects to return to West Virginia.
"I'm going to live here because of the people,'' he said. "As soon as I have enough money and status or whatever, I'll be coming here and living here.''
In a season in which the Mountaineers lost nine of their final 13 games to finish 19-14, Kilicli struggled with injuries, most notably a hip pointer, as well as twisted ankles. He averaged 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 32 games.
"I was injured three or four times,'' he said. "The most painful one was a hip pointer, but I played through it. But if you don't take time off, it doesn't get better. I couldn't take the time off. Some days it was good, some days it was bad. Probably 70 percent of the season, I had to play through pain. But I'm good now. I needed two or three weeks of rest, and in the season, you can't do that. I needed to get off my feet.''
The Mountaineers relied heavily on freshmen last season, and their first exposure to high-stress Division I basketball took a toll, he said.
"When you're playing at that kind of level - Big East tournament, NCAA tournament - those are big games. [The freshmen] didn't have that kind of experience, and it affected them a lot,'' Kilicli said. "They were getting nervous. That takes away a lot from your game because they have to think before acting. It slows you down a lot. That was a lack of experience. It doesn't matter how good you are. It's a long season for a person just coming from high school. And it's really hard to keep that consistency.''
Because the Mountaineers have been schooled on the Big East's physical style of play, Kilicli believes next season's Big 12 opponents will be forced to adjust.
"I think we're going to be really physical,'' he said. "It's going to be a different type of game. We're going to bring a new style of play in the Big 12, and that's how we can win games. We'll play a Big East style. As much as we have to adjust to them, they have to adjust to us. We have to play our ball. We'll see if they can adjust to us.''
Earlier in the day, Holgorsen signed autographs at the Charleston Department Store to help raise money for the Huggins Cancer Foundation. The Mountaineer coaches also made a stop at the South Charleston Cardiology open house at Thomas Memorial Pavilion.
Some observations by Mountaineer notables at the Civic Center dinner: