After Tuesday’s shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena, Amico Hoops conducted a brief chat with Raptors rookie center and Austria native Jakob Poeltl about his initial experiences in the pros.
Question: Going into the 10th game of your NBA career, how’s it been for you?
Poeltl: Crazy experience. It’s been a lot of fun with these guys. Obviously we’ve been winning a lot of games too, that makes it even more fun. I’m just trying to take it all in, try to learn from every minute out there and every minute in practice.
Q: For those who don’t know, you’re an international big that decided to go to college instead of declaring for the draft overseas. What went into the decision to go to Utah instead of that route?
Poeltl: Honestly for me, college was like a step in between being a pro and being able to be a young man. With being a pro, so many responsibilities come with it. I’m not sure if I was quite ready at that time to be 100 percent professional basketball, so I think college was a good step in between for me to mature more and to learn basketball.
I played at a high level. I got used to the U.S. style of basketball, to the culture, everything. That’s another big thing for me, so there’s multiple things that played into it, but those were the main ones.
Q: As a rookie, what’s it like to be drafted by an Eastern Conference contender that came so close to reaching the Finals last year? You’ve been immediately into a winning culture in Toronto.
Poeltl: It’s a unique situation. I’m glad that it happened that way. I’m really grateful for it because you get to learn from guys that know how to win, what to do out there on that court, what it takes to win, and that’s I want to do too in my career. I want to be on teams that win games, and I think you have to learn that it’s a skill.
Q: You’re learning under Jonas Valanciunas, a successful international big who’s only getting better. What’s that experience done for you so far?
Poeltl: “It’s great. Obviously, we have, like, a similar story you could say. I’m hoping to get where he is in four or five years from now. That’d be a good way for me to go I think.”
Q: You’ve got a couple of starts under your belt, and Pascal Siakam has started in every game. That’s two rookies with crucial roles so early in their careers. What does that say to you about Dwane Casey’s trust in you already to give you that kind of platform?
Poeltl: It’s unique, and it’s great for us to be out there and get the chance to learn. Obviously, we had some injury problems—like, that played into it—but it’s great for him to be like, ‘Okay you know, I’ll give these young guys a chance. Let’s see what they’ve got.’ I think that shows a lot about him.
Q: What goals do you have personally for this season?
Poeltl: I don’t think there’s anything too specific. I want to be out there and learn. Just soak everything in, that’s the main goal. That’s got to be one of the main goals for about every rookie, because it’s still basketball, but it’s a different kind of game out here in the NBA. It takes time and I think it takes really soaking everything up for a rookie to learn that, and that’s what I want to do.
After Amico Hoops’ interview with Poeltl, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey answered a couple of questions about his rookie’s development.
Q: What have you seen out Jakob in the first 10 games and his growth?
Casey: “He’s growing great. This is going to be a three-headed monster with Jonas [Valanciunas] leading the charge at the center position. Lucas [Nogueira], he’s got his opportunity to take advantage of. Jakob [Poeltl] took advantage of the opportunity when Jonas first went out and did an excellent job. He’s growing. Both he and Pascal [Siakam] have a long way to go, that’s why they’re rookies.
Effort, their heart, their focus. In every meeting, they’re glued on to the board and listening intently, asking questions and answering them intelligently. That’s what you can ask for as far as a rookie. You can’t expect them to go out there and understand the NBA in 10 games. That’s almost impossible, so they’re going to make mistakes. What we try to have to do as a staff and their teammates have to help them minimize those situations.
Q: What did those starts mean to those two rookies so early in their careers?
Casey: It’s going to help us long term. It’s really going to help us when everybody gets healthy. Those guys are going to help us out not just in rag time, so it’s something they’ll be able to draw from once we get [Jared] Sullinger back healthy and get our whole team whole again.