State Colleges

No longer just a sideshow attraction, Tacko Fall is looking for his shot at NBA Combine

UCF center Tacko Fall celebrates as fans storm the court after a 58-55 win against Cincinnati at CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
UCF center Tacko Fall celebrates as fans storm the court after a 58-55 win against Cincinnati at CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS) TNS

Getting attention has never been a problem for Tacko Fall. In high school, he was a little bit of a viral sensation thanks to the comical juxtaposition of Fall, who measured 7-foot-7 with shoes at the NBA Draft Combine on Wednesday, against the typical Florida high school basketball center. Throughout college he was thought of as mostly a gimmick players without any realistic NBA aspirations who could only even be situationally useful for the UCF Knights.

At the NBA Combine in Chicago on Thursday, Fall once again drew a crowd. He entered the media room at Quest Multisport late in the day, after most of the projected lottery picks were long gone, and situated himself a small table in the corner of the room where a small herd of reporters already waited to ask the Central Florida center about his time in Illinois.

“At some point you just get used to it. That’s what I know,” said Fall, who hails from Senegal and previously played at Liberty Christian Preparatory School in Tavares. “The more you experience something, you just get used to it, so that’s what happened with me. Obviously, when it first happened I was a little shy, but now I’m kind of used to it.”

It helps that most everyone takes Fall seriously now. Not just anyone gets an invitation to the Combine and Fall earned his way there with a standout performance at the G League Elite Camp earlier in the week in Chicago. The 23-year-old was one of 11 players picked from the pool of talent at the G League Camp to get a chance in the NBA Combine as scouts have become massively intrigued following Fall’s impressive senior season in Orlando.

The numbers Fall’s senior year weren’t far off from some of his previous seasons. As a senior, Fall averaged 11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while shooting 74.6 percent from the floor and 36.2 percent from the free-throw line. None of those set career bests for Fall.

The Knights, however, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. Fall’s battle with Zion Williamson and the Duke Blue Devils in the second round of the Tournament made Fall a household name, but he was UCF’s defensive anchor all season. By the start of his senior year, Fall started to think maybe NBA aspirations were realistic. By the end, Fall had shed the unfair label of being a gimmick player or sideshow act.

“I had to keep proving myself,” Fall said. “I kept fighting, I kept fighting, I kept getting better. The more you do that, the more people are going to notice. Now that I have the chance to show them what I can do, it’s been great.”

It’s impossible, though, not to have questions about a 7-7, 289-pound prospect, which is why it was so important for Fall to earn an invitation to the Combine. At UCF, the defensive scheme required Fall simply to drop back into the paint on pick and rolls. College kids aren’t nearly as good of shooters as NBA players and Fall’s rim protection was too valuable to have him guard on the perimeter.

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Fall said he felt like he “had to” get the invitation to the Combine so he could show off his competency in the sort of defensive schemes the NBA prioritizes. Although Fall didn’t participate in agility drills, he played a scrimmage Thursday and got to move around like he would have to in an NBA game.

“I’ve shown that I can move. I’ve shown that I can run the floor. I’m in better shape. I have great hands. I’m just showing that I can compete at this level.”

And then there are the measurables which can’t be taught and are unparalleled anywhere in professional basketball. Fall’s standing reach measured in at 10-2 1/2. His wingspan is 8-2 1/4. He measured in at 7-5 1/4 without shoes.

Fall is wise enough to know quickness will always be a problem for him. He’s also smart enough to know how to use his size to make up for his deficiencies and defend the way he’ll be expected to wherever he winds up later in this year.

“The college game is different than the NBA. Our system worked for us, so that’s what we had to do to win games. That’s what I did, but at this level things are different, so I’m just going to do whatever is asked of me,” Fall said. “I have the length to do it. I may not be the quickest, but using my size, using my length I can contest it, I can change shots and that’s what I need to do.”