The Gonzaga basketball teams are lacing up their sneakers for the Big Dance.
The GU men are in Pittsburgh for a Thursday afternoon matchup with the Mountaineers of West Virginia, but it's one bearded man in particular that fans fear.
There hasn’t been an opponent of the Zags in the last 14 consecutive NCAA appearances quite like Deniz Kilicli.
His stature makes for one of the most imposing physical presences in college basketball. Kilicli stands at 6-foot-9-inches tall and is listed at 260 pounds, but most analysts think he weighs in closer to 280 pounds. Kilicli, from Istanbul, Turkey, goes by the nickname "The Istan-bull."
He’s not only enormous. He’s also pretty good.
The Mountaineers praise Kilicli for leading the team in rebounds and his ten-point per game average.
His stats pale in comparison to his facial hair, though. It’s his beard that perhaps attracts the most attention. Some say Kilicli, a 21-year-old college student, looks more like a man in his forties.
West Virginia fans often wear bandanas that warn their opponents to “fear the beard.” Many of Kilicli’s ferocious dunks on YouTube can be found by searching the phrase, and Sports Illustrated compares him to the team’s Mountaineer mascot.
Kilicli has other sides. He plays guitar and is a Big East Academic All-Star.