On Wednesday morning, Utah center Jakob Poeltl officially declared for the 2016 NBA Draft inside the confines of the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility. This announcement comes as no shock, but it wasn’t an easy decision for him.
Poeltl took a few weeks to come to this decision after the Utes were bounced from the NCAA Tournament, mainly because he did really want to finish school and his four years as a Ute on the court. However, he followed the advice of his friends, family, teammates and, most importantly, his head coach to conclude that now was the best time to enter.
“I’ve had the most amazing two years here at Utah, and I don’t regret anything about coming here,” Poeltl said. “It was an unbelievable journey and this is why this decision was so hard. I really wanted to stay for two more years, but I think it is a necessary step for me in my basketball career.”
Head coach Larry Krystkowiak said that if he were in Poeltl’s shoes, he would be making the exact same decision. Certainly times have been changing within the collegiate basketball system, with plenty of players often electing to forego three years of college in favor of professional careers. Time and time again, Krystkowiak has painted Poeltl as the poster child for what good it can do to stay in college for as little as one more year.
“It’s the right decision,” Krystkowiak said. “In light of everything he’s accomplished, I don’t know that it made a whole lot of sense to come back for another year, and I’m just glad we had the opportunity for the second year. He’s far more ready today than he would have been a year ago.”
Last year, when Krystkowiak was asked whether Poeltl was ready for the NBA, he said “no” without any hesitation. This time around, it’s a different story.
With another year under his belt, both Poeltl and Krystkowiak feel like his overall game has immensely improved. Poeltl learned how to stay out of foul trouble, and on the other side of the court, he learned how to do a better job of drawing fouls. His free-throw shooting in the 2014-2015 season was spotty, but since then his numbers have improved in nearly every area of the floor.
His free-throw shooting increased from 43.8 percent to 68.9 percent, he went from averaging 8.7 points per game to 17.6, his rebounding average went up from 6.9 to 9.0 and his hard work did not go without recognition.
He was awarded the Pac-12 Player of the Year award and, most recently, received the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to the nation’s best center in college basketball. When Poeltl accepted the award, he had the opportunity to exchange a few words with one of basketball’s greatest centers.
“[Abdul-Jabbar] tried to explain to me what it’s like in the NBA and that it’s a business,” Poeltl said. “You got to look out for yourself, and it’s going to be my job. Even when there is no practice, it’s going to be expected of me to go to the gym.”
In the end, Krystkowiak is thankful for all Poeltl has been able to do for the Utah basketball program. This season, Poeltl led the team to a 27-9 overall record and a second-place finish in the Pac-12, and although Poeltl was disappointed the team lost in the Round of 32 in the Big Dance, he wouldn’t trade his time at Utah for anything.
He hopes he can find a team with the character like Utah’s in the pros — a team that fits with his style, a team where he can make an immediate impact and a team that fits his personality. He has yet to hire an agent and does not really know which teams are interested in him, but he should gain a clearer picture once the NBA Lottery occurs on May 19.
Utah’s now-former big man is projected to be a top-10 pick by some in the upcoming draft and with that, Poeltl now has the opportunity to become the first Austrian to ever play in the NBA, something he cannot even fathom at the moment. The work Poeltl has done is setting a new standard overseas, and he hopes to make his native county proud.
He doesn’t think he will be able to make a trip home until after the draft because of all the workouts and trainings he will need to do from now until then, but he is eager to see how it all plays out.
“It’s a little crazy,” Poeltl said. “In my mind, it’s unbelievable.”
The NBA Draft is on June 25.