Everything is looking up for UCF's Tacko Fall, and not just because he's 7-6
So just how is the weather up there? Sunny and clear, allowing him to survey the horizon, to see all sorts of possibilities.
In just his fourth year of organized basketball UCF’s sophomore center has evolved from curiosity to prospect, from unproven import to NBA wannabe.
He only came to the U.S. from the West African nation of Senegal in October 2012, but this season is averaging 15.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.58 blocked shots a game for the Knights (9-3), who visit Tulane Wednesday on ASN.
He is also shooting a spiffy 83.8 percent from the floor, which besides leading the nation would shatter the existing record of 74.6, set by Oregon State’s Steve Johnson in 1980-81.
Then again, Fall is often looking DOWN at the rim when he shoots. But in all other ways, things are looking up for him.
“I tell Tacko all the time, ‘Tacko, you can change the game. You can revolutionize the game at your size,’ ” Johnny Dawkins, the Knights’ first-year coach, told the Associated Press recently.
First, though, the 21-year-old Fall had to change himself. He worked diligently in the offseason on his strength and stamina, the result being that the 290-pounder is averaging 27.9 minutes a game this winter, 10 more than a year ago. That in turn has done wonders for his confidence.
Third in the nation in rebounding and 18th in blocks, he also has seven double-doubles to date. One came in a Dec. 18 victory over Miami (Ohio), when he melded a career-high 31 points with 10 rebounds. That earned him Player of the Week honors from ASN's Mark Adams.
Even more impressive, perhaps, was his 20-point, 13-board output in a Nov. 20 loss to defending national champion Villanova, a game in which Fall made all 10 of his shots from the floor while playing a career-high 37 minutes.
But every night he seems to make an impact. Every night he seems to leave an impression.
After he generated 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a 74-59 loss to George Washington on Dec. 15, Colonials coach Maurice Joseph couldn’t help but notice the strides Fall has made since his last winter.
“His timing is a lot better,” Joseph told NBCSports.com. “His hands are a lot better. His offensive skill set is better. Last year he was strictly a dunk guy. This year he added a jump hook with both hands.”
All of this has left Fall’s head spinning.
“I’m thankful, because just five years ago I couldn’t even imagine myself being here,” he said, “so I’m just thankful every day for the opportunity.”
The NBA might offer another, though Fall insisted it is way too early to say whether he will declare for next summer’s draft.
“The thing with the NBA is, I just don’t want to go and just be an average player,” he said. “I want to go and contribute, and I have to be ready. There are a few things I have to work on. … I’ve just got to keep working, and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Strength and lateral quickness remain issues, to say nothing of experience. The web site Draftexpress.com does not include Fall in its 2017 mock draft, and lists him only as the 46th overall choice — i.e., a mid-second-rounder — in its ’18 mock.
So he can afford to slow-play this, especially given how quickly things have unfolded the last few years.
As outlined by ASN’s Kevin Chartrand last year, Fall played some pickup ball growing up in Senegal’s capital city of Dakar, but didn’t become serious about the sport until making the acquaintance of one Ibrahim N’Diaye.
N’Diaye, director of Flyingstar Academy — a facility dedicated to developing young athletes in hopes of introducing them to collegiate and professional opportunities – was intrigued by Tacko’s size and potential.
In time N’Diaye convinced Tacko’s mom, Marianne Sene, that her son would be best served going to the U.S. to further his career, leading Tacko to travel to Houston in October 2012 with his basketball-playing friend, Ange Badji.
Fall took to the language readily enough. (It was his fourth, following French, Arabic and Wolof, his native tongue.) He and Badji also learned something about geography, hopscotching from Texas to Ohio to Georgia to Tennessee while some paperwork issues were resolved.
Finally they landed in Florida. There they found a host family, as well as a school — Liberty Christian Prep in Tavares, 45 minutes northwest of Orlando. Fall played two seasons at Liberty, and while he had recruiting overtures from some 40 colleges elected to remain in the area when it came time to choose between them. (Badji has in the meantime found a home at T-N-G Prep Academy in Athens, Tenn.)
Fall averaged 7.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.33 blocks his first year at UCF. And now, hard as it may be to believe, he continues to grow. In every sense.
“I always thought I could do it,” he said, “but now I’m just coming into college and having more experience and being able to play at some high level. And being able to compete with (opponents) and do the things I’m doing just built my confidence that I can really do it now.”
As a result he can see for miles. And he very much enjoys the view.
Photos courtesy UCF Athletics