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In an era of increasing small ball, Utah's Jakob Poeltl cut against the grain to great success this season. And after an All American year, the 7-footer has been recognized as the best center in the country.
The Austrian sophomore beat out four of the nation's best big men including Weber State's Joel Bolomboy for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to college basketball's best center. Accepting it in Los Angeles from the award's namesake, Poeltl said he was humbled on the ESPN2 broadcast.
"It's absolutely amazing," he said. "I think Kareem is the best center to ever play the game. To be honored in his name is a surreal feeling."
Winning the award named for the NBA's all-time leading scorer was appropriate, considering how stout Poeltl was for Utah's offense.
http://bit.ly/1QVP2pw">Returning for a second year after mulling an NBA departure last spring, Poeltl led Utah with 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game as the focal point of the 27-9 Utes. He was one of the surest offensive options in the country, shooting 64.6 percent from the floor for the seventh-best percentage in Division I.
His play earned a slew of postseason recognition: http://bit.ly/1R1dGSo">He was Utah's first-ever men's basketball Pac-12 player of the year, and was a finalist for the Wooden, Naismith and Robertson Awards and was a consensus All-American.
It's Poeltl's second award for the country's best big: http://bit.ly/1ROvvaT">He was announced as the Pete Newell Big Man award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches last week and received the award in Houston on Sunday.
After a promising freshman season, Poeltl increased his points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and player efficiency rating, stepping into the leading role for the Utes. He notched 16 double-doubles and was a four-time Pac-12 player of the week.
"I think it's a testament to all the hard work I've put in and all the support I've gotten from my family and my coaches throughout my career," he said in a statement provided by Utah athletics.
Poeltl is widely expected to announce his early entry into the NBA Draft within the next week. He's the highest-ranked center in his class http://www.draftexpress.com/">on Draft Express (No. 8 overall) andhttp://insider.espn.go.com/nba/draft/results/top100/_/year/2016"> ESPN (No. 10 overall), and he stands to become Utah's first lottery pick since center Andrew Bogut was picked first overall in 2005.
It's the second time in as many years that a Utah men's basketball star has won an ESPN Hoophall award as the best player at his position.http://bit.ly/1FOl0hB"> Delon Wright won the Bob Cousy Award last year for the nation's best point guard.
http://www.hoophallawards.com/kareem.php">Poeltl's fellow finalists were Bolomboy, Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis, Providence's Ben Bentil and Purdue's AJ Hammons.
Poeltl's 2015-16 stats
Pts FG% Reb Blk
17.2 65.6 9.1 1.6