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Brooklyn, N.Y. • When Jakob Poeltl burst onto the NBA radar two years ago, it was while he was running pick and rolls at the Huntsman Center with Delon Wright.
But the thought of a reunion with his old college buddy was one of the reasons Poeltl was beaming Thursday night after being drafted by the Toronto Raptors and realizing a basketball dream.
"I'm super stoked about that," Poeltl said of teaming with Wright in Canada. "It's so great to know that I'm already going to have somebody there that I know that's my friend. I talked to him a lot throughout this process and he's told me only good things about Toronto. It's like an unbelievable feeling right now."
Sitting with his family and Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, the Austrian 7-footer watched anxiously as the first eight selections of Thursday night's draft starting with Australian star Ben Simmons going to Philadelphia with the first overall pick were announced.
But a phone call and a quick conversation soon brought a smile to Poeltl's face. Then after a quick conversation, a smile came over his face.
A camera trained on him as NBA commissioner Adam Silver read out the selection.
"With the ninth pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors select Jakob Poeltl," he said, "from Vienna, Austria, and the University of Utah!"
A day before the draft, Poeltl had been wrestling with what to wear for the big night. He settled ultimately on a sharp, dark blue suit and a blue tie with white polka dots. Now he had the perfect accessory: a black Raptors hat with a red bill.
Poeltl hugged his mother, then his sister and his father.
Moments later, the former Runnin' Ute star was talking about being ready to embrace the challenge of the NBA.
"I think I can be a guy who's out there always fighting, always trying to get better," he said. "I think I'm far from done [developing as] a player. I can improve a lot, I feel like, and I hope I can help out this organization these next couple years."
A couple years ago, the idea of Poeltl being a lottery pick would have been unthinkable.
The Utes plucked Poeltl out of relative obscurity in 2014, signing him from the Arkadia Traiskirchen Lions in the Austrian Bundesliga. A starter from his first game in college, Poeltl quickly drew attention with his wingspan, interior scoring and strong defense. He averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as a freshman while drawing interest from NBA scouts.
"The more we had him around, the more we realized we had a gem," Krystkowiak said. "It's quite a story."
Relying on terrific athleticism and an evolving skillset, Poeltl became the most dominant post player at Utah in a decade, averaging 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last season. Among his postseason honors: consensus All-American, Pac-12 player of the year, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award winner for the top center in the country. The Utes reached the NCAA Tournament in both years Poeltl suited up for the team.
Poeltl is the second Ute to be picked in the first round in as many years, following Wright's selection in 2015. He's the first lottery pick from Utah since Andrew Bogut went first overall in 2005.
The 20-year-old is making history for his country: he is the first Austrian to be selected in the draft, and stands to become the first Austrian to play in an NBA game.
In the NBA, Poeltl believes he will continue to add to his game. Throughout the draft process, the big man impressed and surprised scouts with his improved shooting touch from deep.
"These last couple of months I've been working on it a lot. Yeah, it's just something I never really did in college," he said. "I didn't work on it too much. I worked on a lot of aspects of my game, and now that I've finished the season and I've started working out, I'm preparing for the draft and the next NBA season, the Summer League. I've started shooting a lot more, and I've noticed some quick improvement. So I really hope I can be or become a better shooter fast and stretch the floor a little bit more."
Krystkowiak had expressed hopes that Poeltl would go to a team with a strong culture and solid locker room leaders. In Toronto, Poeltl will be able to learn behind center Jonas Valanciunas on a team coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I think it's an amazing opportunity for me to be on a winning team, a team that had an amazing season like the Toronto Raptors had last season," Poeltl said. "I can learn from a lot of these guys that have had success in the NBA and are really good NBA players, and I think they can set a great example for guys like me, young guys coming in, and like I said, to be able to learn from them. That's really what I'm looking forward to."
Reporter Kyle Goon contributed to this story.