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Former Utah basketball star Jakob Poeltl adjusting to NBA life with Raptors

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Jakob Poeltl was born in Austria and basketball took him to several countries in Europe, including Macedonia for the U-18 European championships. The 7-footer then played two seasons for University of Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak, a former NBA player.

Now Poeltl is in his next international adjustment as a rookie center with the Toronto Raptors, who drafted him ninth overall in the 2016 NBA draft.

“He’s a smart kid. He will adjust and adapt,” Utes assistant coach Andy Hill said in a telephone interview.

Poeltl averaged 6.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in his first six preseason games for the Raptors, who ended the exhibition season here against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 21.

7p, 7r in 11 min Friday night for Jakob Poeltl... The kid can play. pic.twitter.com/RP73TUW6G9

— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 29, 2016

“I feel like at this point I have seen a lot of things. I have played in Europe, I have played in college,” said Poeltl, 21, leaning against a wall outside of the Raptors locker room after a morning shootaround. “It is always the same process. At first it is just weird and different. You get used to it and it becomes more natural."

“It is like doing anything else. You get used to it and you don’t have to think about it anymore. I will be there eventually. I am not too worried about it. It is a process and I know I will be there eventually,” he added.

Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said that the former Utah star is in the running to be a backup center along with Lucas Nogueira, a 7-footer from Brazil who averaged 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds last season.

Poeltl averaged 12 minutes and 4.5 points off the bench in his first two games with Toronto. “He is a smart kid. He has a great feel for the game,” Casey said of All-American Poeltl. “He is an excellent passer. The NBA will be an easy transition for him.”

Frontline players for Toronto include Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, who averaged 12.8 points and 9.1 boards last season as the Raptors lost in the Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Cleveland.

The Raptors also have former Ohio State star Jared Sullinger, a 6-9 power forward who can also be used at center. He averaged 10.3 points per game last season for Boston but has been dealing with a foot injury, and that could mean more time for the Austrian. Poeltl averaged 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds as a sophomore at Utah.

“To be honest at this point I know there is a chance for me to play,” Poeltl said. “There is definitely room (in the rotation) to be on the court. I just have to make the most of your playing time you get right now. You have to do your best as a player to fit that role and do what you can to make coach realize you are the best (option) for that role. That is what I am trying to do. I definitely have to develop and expand my game.”

Poeltl has had to adjust to rules that are different than the NCAA.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” he said of the transition to the NBA. “It is a weird process because you play the same game but it so much different in so many levels all of a sudden. It just makes it so much more difficult in a sense you have to think about so much more stuff that was natural when you played in college.”

Making the transition easier is Toronto guard Delon Wright, a former Utes star who averaged 3.8 points and 1.1 assists as a rookie last season.

“It has been great,” Poeltl said of his former college teammate who was also in training camp with Toronto. “It makes it a lot easier having someone right from the get-go that you have played with. It is not only (vital) on the court but off the court. It is just really helpful.”

Hill, the Utah assistant, went to Austria to recruit Poeltl and was in Macedonia for the European championships three years ago.

“He has a good family and he has been exposed to a quite a lot. And Larry has tidbits (to pass along) that no other college coaches do,” Hill said. “It doesn’t take (Poeltl) long to know what he has to do.”