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Former Ute Jakob Poeltl enjoys return to Utah — except for the blowout loss

San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25), right, boxes out Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the San Antonio Spurs versus Utah Jazz NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.
San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25), right, boxes out Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the San Antonio Spurs versus Utah Jazz NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.
Steve Griffin

SALT LAKE CITY — For the most part, Jakob Poeltl enjoyed his most recent return visit to his old college town.

Poeltl attended the Salt Lake City Stars game on Monday, giving him a chance to watch former Ute teammate Dakarai Tucker in action for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

On Tuesday morning, the Austrian big man visited his favorite eating establishment in Salt Lake City — the popular Park Café. And, of course, he got the usual: Michigan hash and French toast.

“You can’t miss out on that,” he said.

There were about two and a half hours that the San Antonio Spurs big man might wish he could’ve missed — or at least that would have turned out better.

Vivint Arena gave Kyle Korver a much warmer homecoming in his return to the state as a Jazzman following last week’s trade than the building did for the Spurs’ former Utah resident.

The Jazz walloped the Spurs so soundly — 139-105 — that Poeltl couldn’t even feel a sense of accomplishment after scoring a career-high 20 points.

“It didn’t really matter,” Poeltl said. “If I get a career-high in a 30-point loss or whatever it was, it doesn’t feel great.”

Now in his third NBA season, the 7-foot center spent his first two years in the league with the Toronto Raptors. Poeltl was traded to San Antonio this past offseason as part of a blockbuster deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to Canada and DeMar DeRozan to Texas.

Poeltl is getting more opportunities with Spurs big man Pau Gasol sidelined with left foot soreness.

Despite Tuesday’s setback and an un-Spurs-like 11-13 start to the 2018-19 season, Poeltl is enjoying his second stop in the NBA since being picked ninth overall by Toronto in the 2016 draft. He likes that he’s being taught “different stuff” with a team that puts more of an emphasis on the bigs than his previous team.

“It’s great,” he said. “There’s so much I can learn here, not only from (Gregg Popovich) but from the rest of the coaching staff, the veterans that we have on this team. That’s definitely one of the big positives of this trade.”

Poeltl credited Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and even Tim Duncan for helping him “a lot.” Guard Patty Mills has also been a helpful, vocal leader for the 23-year-old and other young Spurs players.

“I think playing with a new team, playing with new teammates in a different system is definitely weird at first,” Poeltl said. “I have to get used to my new teammates, how to play with them, how they like to play, what can I change to my game to adapt that. I feel like I’m figuring it out. I am actually feeling really comfortable out there right now.”

Poeltl certainly felt comfortable while in a city he knows quite well. He said he hung out with friends from college when the Spurs had some time off before Tuesday’s game on their back-to-back Utah-Los Angeles road trip.

“It’s great coming back here. It’s a lot of fun actually,” he said. “It’s a shame that it gets that negative right here with a game like today.”

It wasn’t Poeltl’s fault. He hit his first six shots, finished making 9 of 11 buckets and eclipsed his previous career-high of 18 points (set a year ago versus Indiana). He also grabbed seven rebounds and blocked a shot in his 19 minutes off the bench.

Poeltl came into this game averaging 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds.

“He’s a role player who understands what he can do and what he can’t do. He knows that his minutes will be based on running the court, rebounding and trying to play defense and that sort of thing,” Popovich said in his pregame interview. “We’re not going to look to him to score a whole bunch, but he already knows that. He’s very willing to fulfill a role.”