SALT LAKE CITY — Utah center Jakob Poeltl entered this week second in scoring and third in rebounding among Pac-12 players and was named one of 10 players up for the Naismith Player of the Year award earlier this week, so it’s not surprising that he’s leaning toward taking his game to the next level.
“The way it looks right now, I’m thinking about going to the (NBA) draft, but I’m not going to make a final decision on that until the season is over,” Poeltl said, following a team practice on Thursday. “All I can tell you right now is I’m leaning towards it.”
The sophomore currently leads the Utes, averaging 17.6 points and nine rebounds per game. He’s also shooting 67 percent from the field this season, which leads the conference and is fourth-best in the country.
His success has put him in consideration as one of the best NBA prospects for the 2016 NBA draft, where ESPN, Draft Express and NBAdraft.net are among those who project Poeltl as a Top 10 pick.
While the Vienna, Austria, native said he’s leaning toward the NBA draft, he added he is still weighing his options before making that final decision at the end of the season.
Though he could make millions at basketball's highest level, he said there are some factors that could pull him into staying.
"I haven’t thought about it in depth, like the whole process — like how it’s going to be playing in the NBA, so maybe after the season I talk with my parents, friends and stuff and I realize that that’s maybe not for me — like the pro life," Poeltl said. "I want to wait a little bit more to mature, like that could be a reason or maybe I injure myself and it’s not the right move at the time. There’s a lot of things that could happen.”
Poeltl added he's enjoyed his time at Utah, where he said he has become more "comfortable" on the court, in school and also socially, while also learning to adjust to living in the U.S. and independently.
This isn’t the first season Poeltl has needed to spend time to make a decision of jumping early to the professional level. After his freshman season, Poeltl decided to come back despite projections as a first-round pick after averaging 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds.
During Larry Krystkowiak’s weekly press conference held Wednesday morning, the Utah head coach lauded Poeltl’s decision to return to the Utes following his freshman year because jumping prematurely is always a tempting option with money on the line.
“I’ve always thought the NCAA needs to put together a catalog of guys that maybe departed for the NBA too soon and it was not a successful story and then make a catalog of guys who decided to come back,” Krystkowiak said. “That adjustment at the next level is no joke. I played college for four years and I wasn’t ready for it.
“(Poeltl’s) statement, where he wanted to come back, he trusted the process — things we have in place here for him to improve, whether it was the weight room or his friends or the coaching staff or the college life,” Krystkowiak added. “We haven’t had many of those stories recently because so many kids when they’re teased a little bit about going to the next level, they take off so you don’t see that improvement from a freshman to a sophomore year.”
Unlike last year, Poeltl said he has adjusted with knowing that his name is constantly being tossed around by NBA scouts, which have frequently attended Utah games over the past two seasons.
That lifts the stress that might be associated with thinking about the next level.
“I don’t really feel that pressure to be honest,” Poeltl said. “The biggest pressure I feel during games is probably the one I put on myself because I set myself to high expectations and I want to perform at a really high level. I don’t worry too much about what other people think about the way I play or how (well) I play.”