By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University basketball player Deniz Kilicli is rapidly becoming the most popular import from Turkey since taffy.
Big and strong, with a head of hair that might be cut in a Mohawk one night or closely cropped the next, with a 5 o’clock shadow no matter what time of day it might be, this guitar-strumming power forward wears his heart on his sleeve and his number – 13, of course – on his chest.
He smiles easily and has just enough foibles to remain as common as your next-door neighbor.
But what is turning him into a cult idol is a shot unlike any other in college basketball, his own homegrown hook shot that is as accurate as it unorthodox.
According to the message boards, a recruit named Keaton Miles has taken to calling it “The Turkey Toss,” which is not a bad nickname, although I prefer to nickname the player before nicknaming his shot, and to me we would all be missing out by not simply referring to him as “The Istan Bull.”
Certainly, his scoring ability with this “The Turkey Toss” is such that the moment will come when he steals the ball at half court in the closing seconds of a game and takes it down into the pivot and beats the buzzer with his hook shot.
At that moment, up the press room, how many pundits will sit down and pen the following lede:
“West Virginia University rode Deniz Kilicli’s heroics to defeat Whatchacallit U., 53-52, by hook and by crook last night at the Coliseum.”
Kilicli’s shot is so unique that with any national success he will muscle his way in among the all-time greats for, it seems, there is something about the hook shot that makes it stand out above all others.
Think about it for a moment.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rode his “Sky Hook” to the Hall of Fame, bringing it from his days as Lew Alcindor at Power Memorial High in New York and UCLA to the day when he ruled the NBA as its all-time leading scorer.
The term “Sky Hook” was coined when he was with the Milwaukee Bucks by that team’s radio announcer, Eddie Doucette, who said “that hook was so high that it was coming of the sky.”
During the 1987 NBA championship, his teammate Magic Johnson won an NBA title by using what he called his “baby hook” in deference to Abdul-Jabbar’s “Sky Hook.”
The shot reached its popularity in the 1950s first, in college with Washington’s Bob Houbregs, but the real father of the hook shot was the immortal George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers, one of professional basketball’s first big men.
The 6-10 Mikan, a gentle giant who wore scholarly eye-glasses on the court, completely changed the game of basketball. The obituary of him that ran in the Hartford Courant read, in part:
He forced rules to prohibit goaltending, a tactic nobody conceived of until (George Mikan) began knocking away shots inches from the rim. After Mikan joined the Lakers, the NBA widened its free-throw lane from 6 feet to 12 feet. Slowdown tactics used against him — his 1950 Lakers lost 19-18 to the Fort Wayne Pistons in the lowest-scoring game in NBA history — eventually led to the 24-second shot clock.
In those early days of the NBA, you had Chamberlain and Bill Russell, along with Harry Gallatin and Sweetwater Clifton of the New York Knicks, who would utilize the hook as bigger and more agile players began to join Mikan in the league.
It wasn’t only the big guys who used the hook shot, for the great guard Bob Cousy, who stood only 6-foot-2 but had extremely long arms and big hands, incorporated it into his flamboyant game when he posted up opponents.
But in today’s game, where the hook has evolved mostly into a “jump hook,” Kilicli is a throwback and has developed a weapon that is nearly unblockable. In fact, it might be best to sag quickly on him defensively for his hook shot begins down rather low with his arm fully extended.
Certainly, as point deficient as are these Mountaineers, it certainly would not be a mistake to overuse Kilicli until defenders drop off the shooters on the outside, perhaps allowing them to get hot.
Pitt had no answers for him as he scored a career-high 19 points against center Gary McGhee, whom coach Jamie Dixon was touting as the defensive player of the year in the Big East.
“He’s one of the best post-defenders in the Big East,” Kilicli admitted after the game. “In the beginning of the season, what I did was watch his games because he guards the post pretty well. All the shots, he contested, and they are normally tough shots. He almost clapped every shot, but it went in today and I’ve been working on that.”
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.