By Frank McLean
The Toronto Raptors got the guy they wanted in the NBA draft Thursday night. With the ninth pick in the first round they took a seven foot Austrian named Jakob Poeltl.
Pronounced (Ya-hib Pert-l) his name is going be a nightmare for radio and television sports casters, but at forward, he is what the team is looking for.
He has spent the last two years playing at the University of Utah, and in 2014-15 he was a teammate of current Raptors guard Delon Wright.
He is a power forward and center. In his two years playing in the Pac-12 Conference he averaged 13.3 points a game, eight rebounds and one assist.
This past season he was the winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award given to the top center in the NCAA.
In a conference call with the Toronto media, Wright gave Poeltl a glowing job reference and said he is a player.
“He was legit before he came to Utah,” Wright said. “When he came to Utah he could pick and roll. A lot of big guys can’t pick and roll hard, but he can hard and he’s got great hands.
“When he came to Utah he was learning English, but he could speak a little. He’s a guy that jokes around, a great teammate and a very hard worker.”
The hard work part is what you have to do stay on a Dwane Casey team. What impresses Casey is that he is schooled in the fundamentals.
When asked in Brooklyn at the draft about getting to play with Wright, Poeltl was excited to have a friend in already in the 416.
“I’m super stoked about that”, Poeltl said. “It’s so great to know that I’m already going to have somebody there that I know that’s my friend, and 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.”
About being a Raptor Poeltl told Casey that he knew about the team and that he watched them in the playoffs. That was something that impressed Casey as well as his knowledge of the entire NBA.
“I’m so excited that the Toronto Raptors put their trust in me,” Poeltl added. “I think I can be a guy who’s out there always fighting, always trying to get better. I think I’m far from done being a player like I can improve a lot I feel like, and I hope I can help out this organization these next couple years. ”
“He is an excellent basketball player,” Casey said. “Fundamentally sound, he needs to get used to the NBA game, speed and quickness. His foot speed is quicker than JV’s (Jonas Valanciunas) was at his age.”
Casey and the Raptors front office saw that speed first hand on June 17th when they traveled down to Buffalo, New York to work him out.
Poeltl is in the United States on a student visa. There was no problem with him entering Canada, but he could not re-enter the United States, thus forcing the trip to the Chicken Wing capital of the USA.
In a year where there wasn’t one player that came out of college and jumps out at you as the first pick, the Raptors got a player at position, power forward, that they need.
It’s safe pick and he has the best chance of not failing at the NBA level where some scouts fear that Ben Simmons and Buddy Hield could end up as big time flops.
Casey did confirm that GM Masai Ujiri was working the phones all day trying to move up in the draft, but as it worked out, they got their guy when the it came time to make their choice at number nine.
Poeltl also plays center, so with the possible departure of Bismack Biyombo, he could fill a void there as well.
This pick could turn out to be a quiet steal and another feather in the cap of GM Masai Ujiri.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.