There are plenty of things freshman Jakub Jokl, newcomer to the Runnin’ Utes basketball team, is still getting acquainted with.
For starters, he hails from the Czech Republic, so there is the sheer culture shock of living in a new country. However, the fact that he’s away from home doesn’t seem to be too bothersome considering the fact that he competed in Spain at the Canarias Basketball Academy last year.
“We worked very hard to produce everyday,” Jokl said.
However, while Jokl appreciates everything the CBA provided him, one of the most important being a solid basketball foundation, there is one thing it could not prepare him for: the physical style of college basketball in the United States.
Utah seems to be getting into a habit of recruiting big men from Eastern European countries. Former Utah star Jakob Poeltl laid the groundwork, as he was the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Head coach Larry Krystkowiak would often cite that Poeltl was bringing back a “lost art” to college hoops with his back-to-the-basket style; he allowed the Utes to carve out an identity centered on, well, its center.
In a game that's currently dominated by guard play at both the college and professional levels, Utah seems to be the place for big men to thrive. Krystkowiak is a post-player whisperer of sorts. And Krystkowiak and Poeltl, someone Jokl now looks up to, were both instrumental pieces in Jokl deciding Utah would be the best fit.
“I came here because [Poeltl] was also from Europe, and he is a big man, and I think I can learn a lot of things from his play so, I look for him,” Jokl said. “[Krystkowiak] has a lot of experience from his career, and it helps.”
Again, there are some growing pains as Jokl is getting familiarized with all of college basketball’s nuances. For instance, one thing that has been hampering Jokl’s play is the amount of aggressiveness he is either not too familiar with, or the amount of aggressiveness he thinks he can get away with on the court. This is also something Poeltl struggled with when he was in his first year at Utah.
And early on, Jokl is resembling Poeltl in that aspect — more specifically, the amount of fouls he gets called for. The freshman has gotten himself into early foul trouble in almost every game he has played. Again, it’s emblematic of him not necessarily knowing where to draw the line, something Poeltl had to quickly learn.
“It’s very difficult to play basketball here, because it is very different in Europe,” Jokl said. “Basketball here is more physical, and everyone operates stronger.”
And there is another obstacle Jokl is working hard to overcome off the court — the language barrier. Since Jokl’s first language is not English, it can be a bit tricky to communicate with his peers. However, he is grasping more the language every day, and he knows it will come easier as time passes, just as the game will as well.
Poeltl eventually put on some more weight and came around to the American style of play. He went on to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award in addition to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award for his play in the 2015-16 season.
Whether or not a player of the year award is in the future for Jokl is still to be seen, but he is confident he will be able to elevate his game at Utah.
“I hope I work hard at every single practice everyday, and I need to get better,” Jokl said.