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Projected as a possible lottery pick in June's NBA Draft, Jakob Poeltl has decided instead to return for his sophomore season at Utah.

"I love my teammates, coaches and college in general," Poeltl said in a statement, calling it a "gut decision."

The Austrian started all but one game for the Utes as they reached their first Sweet Sixteen since 2005, averaging 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

Utah faced the specter of losing not only Bob Cousy Award winner Delon Wright, but both Poeltl and senior Dallin Bachynski — a tandem of 7-footers who helped the Utes rank third in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin.

Instead, Poeltl will help anchor a mix that includes seniors-to-be Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge and Dakarai Tucker, as well as a trio of promising sophomores and JUCO wing Gabe Bealer.

His mother, Martina, told The Tribune via email that the family weighed the risks and benefits of both options. But, "he wants to elevate his game before facing the challenges of playing in the NBA, he wants to become physically more ready. Utah's staff can help him with that."

Poeltl was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team and was a semifinalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given to the nation's best center, and played some of his best basketball when it mattered most.

He was the leading scorer and rebounder in Utah's first-round win over Stephen F. Austin and scored in double digits against Georgetown and Duke. He also notably held Blue Devils center Jahlil Okafor to a career-low 6 points in Utah's season-ending loss to Duke.

"I think he showed what he can be," said Taylor, who is excited to see what Poeltl can do with a few more pounds of muscle and a greater emphasis on aggressiveness. "... It's just a great feeling for him to come back and get better."

After the season he applied to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee for an evaluation and was projected as high as a lottery pick by Draft Express and Sports Illustrated, among other outlets.

"Jakob had a solid freshman season for us and made great strides but there is no doubt in my mind that his best basketball is ahead of him," said Larry Krystkowiak in a statement. "He is driven, intelligent and an elite athlete. I'm excited he has faith in our program to turn the words 'potential' and 'project' into 'proven' and possibly 'prize.'"

Krystkowiak said that as soon as Poeltl had informed Utah's staff of his decision, he began to talk about next season's goals. "He went from 'me' to 'we' pretty darn quick, and that's our culture."

Poeltl came to Utah from his hometown of Vienna, where he played in the Bundesliga for the Arkadia Traiskirchen Lions, and at the "B" level with the Vienna D.C. Timberwolves.

Martina Poeltl wrote that Austrians would have loved to have their first NBA player. "I wouldn't call it pressure," she wrote, "but there was hope. Now they have to wait a bit longer, [but] it's still the goal!"

Timberwolves president Wolfgang Horak wrote in an email to The Tribune on Monday that his club put no pressure on Poeltl and advised him to follow his inner voice.

"Jakob always had a very realistic view about himself, his talent and capabilities," Horak wrote. "And he can be patient, too."

"He knows that he has a lot of potential and he can still improve his skills significantly."

Twitter: @matthew_piper

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Jakob Poeltl

Measurements • 7'0, 235 pounds

Before Utah • Averaged 12.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game for the Bundesliga's Arkadia Traiskirchen Lions in Vienna. Was twice MVP in the "B" division of the Bundesliga with the D.C. Timberwolves. Captained the under-18 Austrian national team at the European Championships.

At Utah • Shot 68 percent from the field, good for fourth nationally, and ranked third in the Pac-12 in blocked shots with 1.9 per game. Averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds and was at his best down the stretch, scoring 10 or more points in five of Utah's final six games.