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A year ago, Larry Krystkowiak told Jakob Poeltl he wasn't ready for the NBA.
On Wednesday morning one year later, his answer had changed only slightly after Poeltl enjoyed a dominating sophomore season as the best center in the country. The two sat shoulder-to-shoulder in front of a crunched-in pack of media and clicking cameras, and the coach turned toward his player.
"I'm not sure you ever can really be ready," Krystkowiak said. "You're gonna have your hands full. It's big boy basketball. But it's the right decision."
Poeltl officially announced at the Wednesday news conference he's entering the 2016 NBA draft and hiring an agent, bringing an end to an impressive two-year run that saw him help the Utes to 53 wins and back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
The consensus All-American 7-foot center and Austrian native is projected as a top-10 pick this June by Draft Express (No. 8) and ESPN (No. 10).
In his own words, Poeltl called his decision the "logical" choice. Even as his relationships and appreciation for his college experience pulled at his heartstrings to return, the call of the NBA was too persistent to ignore.
"I'm not sure if I want to leave I want to do both, even though it's not possible," he said. "I had such a good time here with everybody involved, that's what made it hard on me. But at the end of the day, it was the decision I had and wanted to make to move on with my basketball career."
One of the chief factors: Poeltl has little left to prove at the NCAA level.
As a sophomore, he led the team in scoring (17.2 ppg), rebounding (9.1 rpg), blocks (1.6 bpg) and shooting percentage (65.6 percent). He had 31 double-digit scoring games, 16 double-doubles and four Pac-12 player of the week awards.
His efforts landed him Pac-12 player of the year, consensus All American status and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar center of the year, among other honors.
Poeltl's 65.8 career shooting percentage is a Utah program record. In only two years, he managed to set top-10 team marks in offensive rebounds (194, No. 8) and blocks (119, No. 7).
Utah's coaching staff gave Poeltl a list of items to improve a year ago when he decided to return to college. Krystkowiak now has trouble circling an area where Poeltl didn't improve in his second year at Utah: He shot a better percentage, scored more points, fouled less often and went from an eyesore at the foul line to a fairly reliable shooter.
As a mobile center with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, good hands and a mind for the game, Poeltl has the foundation for a fruitful NBA career, Krystkowiak said. He drew several comparisons between Poeltl and Utah's last lottery pick, Andrew Bogut (2005).
The Utes mined Poeltl two years ago out of Vienna, and Krystkowiak admits that he didn't know then what he had. The Austrian came to Salt Lake City with much intrigue, but without much hype.
Now, he stands to become the first-ever player from his native country to play in the NBA, potentially vaulting basketball closer to the forefront of the skiing- and soccer-loving nation. He may be the only player declaring for the draft for patriotic reasons.
"In my mind, it's unbelievable," he said. "I want there to be a lot more people coming out of Austria to go to the NBA in the future. That's the most rewarding part of this. I really hope this will boost basketball in Austria, make it more popular and make more kids play basketball."
Poeltl spent the past few weeks mulling the decision with his family, although most close to the program expected him to go pro. Former teammate Austin Eastman said the players had a good idea that Poeltl was playing his last year with the Utes.
"For him, it was just a matter of making the right decision," he said. "He's very consistent in what he does. The relationships he built here might've been holding him back, because at the next level it's not the same. But ultimately, he made the right decision."
Eastman added Poeltl's roommates planned to grill some steaks in their teammates' honor that evening.
Poeltl hasn't yet hired an agent, and he said he wasn't sure where he would be training. Krystkowiak quipped that Utah's staff would give him tough workouts on Thursday and Friday.
Poeltl added that he's starting to look at teams that figure into the lottery, and what systems fit his style of play.
While most observers thought that Poeltl's game against Colorado in the Huntsman Center last month would be his last, the Utes did not honor him among the departing seniors.
To make up for it, Utah brought out a framed No. 42 jersey during the press conference that Krystkowiak said Poeltl would be able to take with him, along with the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award and the Pete Newell award trophies.
It's only fair, considering what he leaves behind at Utah.
"I think we feel extremely proud of what he's done to help our program," Krystkowiak said. "It's a bittersweet day, but I flash back to a couple trips I took to Austria, and I'm just thankful he believed in our program. He's always going to be a part of the cornerstone that we've tried to build here."
About Jakob Poeltl
Utah's sophomore center Jakob Poeltl announced he will enter the NBA draft on Wednesday and expects to hire an agent, ending a decorated career:
• Consensus All-American
• Pete Newell Big Man Award
• Kareem Abdul-Jabbar center of the year
• Pac-12 player of the year
• Four-time Pac-12 player of the week
• Finalist for Robertson, Naismith and Wooden Awards
• Set school record with career 65.8 field goal shooting percentage