By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The public picture of Bob Huggins and the private one are very different, almost polar opposites in many cases.
The public sees the snarling, foot-stomping coach who prowls the sideline of a West Virginia University game, often hears the roar of his voice shouting out some kind of expletive above the roar of the crowd, his nose in the face of a player who had dared invoke his anger.
Privately he is different. He is introspective, thinking through almost every answer he gives to a question, speaking in a voice normally just above a whisper. Oh, many of his observations will drip of sarcasm, such as when his team committed 18 turnovers against Texas Tech for the second straight game he was moved to say:
“We only had 36 (turnovers) in two games. If it got to 40, I’d be pretty concerned.”
But mostly he remains thoughtful and hushed.
Coaches, you see, are often misunderstood, in part because many people seem to believe their job is elemental in its existence, based upon the Xs and Os of the strategy when, in part, nothing can be further from the truth.
A coach must play psychiatrist and father figure for his players, the man who carries them through the low points while keeping them anchored through the high points. Each player, you see, is different and responds to different stimuli.
This year, his senior center Deniz Kilicli has been the project as he went through highs and lows until he found himself wandering aimlessly through a maze of emotions.
“There were times when I didn’t feel like I was doing the best I can. Not because I didn’t want to. I just couldn’t do it. It was like a mental breakdown for me,” he said Saturday night after having his finest game of the season with a career-high 25 points and eight rebounds in beating Texas Tech. “Actually, a lot of people tried to get me down rather than to pick me up.”
Kilicli did not name names or cite why he came to feel that way, but he was more than willing to explain how he went on.
“In the end, when everything was going bad, I talked to Huggs, and Huggs picked me up. I don’t trust anybody else. He told me some stuff and I trusted him and started to play better. Mentally I was in better shape.”
To Deniz Kilicli, Bob Huggins is father confessor.
“I don’t care whatever anyone else thinks. I don’t give two poops about it. We always talk. Everyone sleeps and me and him just talk,” he said.
This, Huggins would say later, is nothing new with the center out of Istanbul, Turkey.
“Deniz and I have always had a good relationship. I mean, we had a good relationship when he didn’t speak English. I didn’t have an idea what he was saying, but he’d always hug me, so I thought it was all right. I didn’t know.”
The relationship grew from the time he came to Huggins until now, when he is ready to leave, a Final Four in his distant background and dismal senior year being written right now.
People have reacted to it, often blaming Huggins for Kilicli’s inability to light things up earlier in the season.
“I’ve been very tempted to save all these letters I get from guys who know how to coach better than I do and know how to coach Deniz better than I do and maybe take a month and evaluate their place of work and what kind of job they’re doing and then write them a letter and let them know what kind of job they are doing and what kind of job their employees are doing,” Huggins said. “In some of those places, how well they cook the french fries at McDonald’s. You know, you can overcook those.
“But I don’t pay attention to that stuff. Some of them are laughable; some of them make you look at the guy (who wrote it) and know he never played basketball and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
When people were down on Kilicli earlier this year, when he was down on himself because of that, it was Huggins whom he sought out.
“He came in and we talked for whatever, 25 minutes, a half hour,” Huggins acknowledged, again emphasizing it was nothing new. “We’ve had talks for a couple of hours sometimes. He’s come over to my house. I remember sitting out back sometimes and talking about a lot of different things.”
You talk about a lot of different things with Kilicli because he is many things, not just a basketball player.
“Honestly, Deniz’s problem is probably he’s too talented. He’s too smart. He picks up a gun and goes and hunts and is very proficient at that. He shot a wild boar. He’s been deer hunting. He’s been coon hunting,” Huggins said. “Everybody gets frustrated ... and I may be at the head of the class when it comes to frustration. But he’s not a quitter. That’s not Deniz.”
Because he has understood that about Kilicli, he has been able to help him realize his place in it all.
And now, toward the end of his college career, Kilicli accepts the situation.
“You grow,” he said. “These are things that happen in basketball. The Lakers are having a horrible season. If it will happen to the Lakers, of course, it will happen to us. We are amateurs. We don’t have a Kobe.
“The difference between a mature player and a kid is you know how to lose and you know how to win,” he continued. “I think this year ... it’s still not done, so I don’t want to say much about the year. So far, this season has taught me how to learn from everything, look at it from a clear mindset. Locking yourself in the house doesn’t help.
“You have to watch film, see what you did. OK, I made a mistake; what can I do? I have learned how to react to it. It’s not getting high or low. You just go out and play. I like playing basketball and that’s what I do. Stuff happens.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.