UCF Knights

Tacko Fall (Dan Forcella/UCF Athletics)
Dan Forcella/UCF Athletics

The Basketball Infant: 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall’s basketball journey is just getting started

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Let Jamill Jones tell it, and the change we’ve seen in UCF center Tacko Fall this season has everything to do with one, simple character trait that isn’t always easy to find in guys with his size.

Fall has fallen in love with the process.

That’s not always true with kids that play basketball because they’re big. Basketball is what you do when you’re that big. There’s nothing wrong with turning the physical gifts you’ve been blessed with into a free education and some fast cash coming out of college, but often times, that’s why 7-footers find their way onto a court. They play basketball because they’re tall, not because they love the game.

According to Jones, who left VCU to join Johnny Dawkins’ staff at UCF in April, that’s not the case with Fall.

“Tacko really does love basketball,” Jones, who coaches UCF’s bigs, said. “I think early on it was difficult for him with the expectations. Dealing with the, ‘Oh, you’re 7-foot-6? You should just dunk everything.’ That’s not reality.”

It was a confidence issue for Fall as much as anything. Fall, who just turned 21, arrived in the United States from Senegal when he was 16. He didn’t start playing basketball until October of 2012.

He’s a 7-foot-6 basketball infant, and it wasn’t until this season that he realized just how good he can be.

The transformation started in the spring, when Fall and UCF strength and conditioning coach Alex Parr dedicated themselves to changing Fall’s body.

“I was on the track. In the weight room. In the gym. Every day,” Fall said. “Alex Parr [made] a program where they made me do a lot of stuff that will help me not get injured. Just running up and down is not good for my knees and ankles, so they had me strengthen them. That, flexibility, conditioning, going to the track and just running miles. Going to the weight room and getting in more reps. Getting on the court and working on switching directions.”

Fall bought in, and it didn’t take long for that work to manifest itself in his ability to have an impact on the floor. You can’t ask for better positive reinforcement. Every dunk, every blocked shot, every pickup game his team won. It all boosted Fall’s confidence in himself, and that, in turn, only increased his appetite for the process, his desire to put in the work that it takes to get better.

“It’s instant gratification,” Jones said “When you see the hard work you put in translating into the game, you want to do even more of it. Instead of second-guessing coach, it’s, ‘Coach, you’re right.'”

“I could tell I’m getting better,” Fall said. “But there’s a lot of things that I can still learn. I’m still young in the game. This is just my fourth year playing basketball. I know there’s a lot of things I can [improve on]. Even during the season, every game I can make bigger strides.”

The biggest change in Fall this season is his conditioning, his ability to not only stay on the floor but to be effective as opposed to sucking wind. Fall is averaging 27 minutes as a sophomore, up from 17 minutes as a freshman. He played 37 minutes, scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 boards, against No. 1 Villanova. He played 35 minutes against Penn and 33 minutes against UMass. It’s not easy to have that much of an impact when you’re gassed after three trips up and down the court.

“Tacko could always run, but not for long periods of time. Now he gets up and down a lot better,” Jones said. “Early on, he would hit walls and wouldn’t push through. Now he’s getting to the point where when fatigue is setting in, discomfort is setting in, he can give a little bit more.”

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The next step was to teach him to embrace his size. Fall is a shy kid. When he arrived in this country, he had a limited ability to communicate in English. Even when he wanted to, Fall couldn’t just blend in. At 7-foot-6, you get attention everywhere you go.

Jones kept hammering the point home: On the court, that size is what makes him special.

“The kid has a 10-foot-5 standing reach so when he shoots a hook shot he’s literally throwing the ball in the basket,” Jones said. “You should be comfortable and happy that you can play above it. Most guys in the country can’t play at that height for long periods of time. He lives there.”

The results have been better than UCF could have asked for. Despite having just seven healthy scholarship players, the Knights were 7-1 on the season before starting point guard B.J. Taylor went down with a thumb injury. Fall is averaging 14.0 points and 12.5 boards, which is second in the country, while swatting 2.7 shots a night and changing countless others. And he is still a long way from being a finished product. His lateral quickness needs a lot of work. He needs to add strength to his lower body; with such a high center of gravity, stronger players can move him out of position too easily. He gobbles up everything that comes to him but he can still get better at rebounding out of his area. He’s shooting 34.1 percent from the free throw line.

He can still get much better.

And that’s why Fall has real a chance to make it in the NBA.

As one NBA scout phrased it, “he’s new. He’s unique.” Those scouts watch more basketball than anyone. When they’re evaluating a 6-foot-4 point guard or undersized big or 6-foot-11 post with perimeter skills, they have an idea of what that guy can be. They’ve scouted a player like that hundreds if not thousands of times before.

People his size, however, don’t come around that often, especially not when they can move the way he moves, when they are coordinated as he is, when they have the touch and the softs hands that he has.

“He’s a talented kid. His size adds a different dimension out there, but he’s got some talent,” said Maurice Joseph, George Washington’s head coach. The Colonials have played UCF in each of the last two seasons. “His timing is a lot better. His hands are a lot better. His offensive skill set is better. Last year he was strictly a dunk guy. This year he’s added a jump-hook with both hands. He’s tall so he can shoot over people but he wasn’t doing that last year. His balance is better.”

“It was a long summer,” Fall said, knowing just how many long summers he has in front of him, “but it was worth it.”

UCF star point guard out indefinitely with thumb injury

STORRS, CT - JANUARY 22: B.J. Taylor #1 of the Central Florida Knights carries the ball up the court in front of Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies in the first half during the game at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on January 22, 2015 in Storrs, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
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Sophomore guard B.J. Taylor is out indefinitely after suffering a hand injury, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins confirmed at a press conference earlier today.

According to a report from 247 Sports’ UCF site, the injury is a broken thumb, which was suffered in Saturday’s win over UMass.

Taylor is not expected to miss the rest of the season but will be out for an extended amount of time. He missed all of 2015-16 season dealing with a foot injury.

On the season, Taylor, a 6-foot-2 point guard, was having an all-AAC caliber season, averaging 17.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards.

VIDEO: UCF’s A.J. Davis dunks on Mamadou Ndiaye

A.J. Davis, Mamadou Ndiaye
Associated Press
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Wednesday night’s matchup between UC Irvine and UCF matched the two tallest players in college basketball, with the height of UC Irvine’s 7-foot-6 junior Mamadou Ndiaye being equaled by that of UCF freshman Tacko Fall. Having a big man that tall can serve as an effective deterrent on the defensive end of the floor, with opponents deciding that they’d rather not attack the basket.

But it can also represent an invitation of sorts, with opposing players who think more of the highlight opportunity than the possibility of having their shot blocked deciding to try their luck.

UCF forward A.J. Davis (he’s 6-foot-9, by the way) saw an opportunity to drive baseline late in the second half and he took it, attacking the rim and throwing down a dunk over Ndiaye. Give Davis credit for attacking the basket, getting the Knights two key points in a game that eventually went to overtime.

But it’s a safe bet that he’d trade this highlight for the win, as Ndiaye and the Anteaters left Orlando with a 61-60 victory.

Video credit: ESPN3

7-foot-6 Tacko Fall still awaiting NCAA clearance at UCF

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The NCAA still hasn’t made decisions on the eligibility of a few incoming freshmen, including UCF 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall.

According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel, Fall and UCF are still awaiting a decision from the NCAA on the center’s academic eligibility, in-part because he’s an international student hailing from Senegal.

Regarded as a three-star prospect coming out of high school, Fall could immediately help the Knights because his unique size is impossible to practice for and he’s a good rim protector. Fall is still allowed to practice with the team as he awaits the NCAA’s ruling, but he can’t participate in games or travel with the team.

If Fall isn’t cleared to play shortly, he could miss a highly-anticipated matchup against UC Irvine on Nov. 18 in which he could go head-to-head against another 7-foot-6 center in Mamadou N’Diaye.

Coaches on the Hot Seat

of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Assembly Hall on March 3, 2015 in Bloomington, Indiana.
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As we get closer to the start of the 2015-16 college basketball season, let’s take a look at the head coaches who need to have a good season in order to feel safe. While the list of coaches on CBT’s “hot seat” have had poor seasons and lost their jobs before, keep in mind that the last two No. 1 selections for this list kept their jobs the following season, including Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who is currently thriving in College Park. 

1. Tom Crean, Indiana: Indiana enters the 2015-16 season with top-25 talent and high expectations, but Crean finds himself atop the hot seat list for failing to meet expectations at Indiana. Crean’s now entering his eighth season as the Indiana head coach, and only once in the previous seven seasons — the 2012-13 season — have the Hoosiers been good enough to be considered a true title contender. That’s not enough, but not only is Crean struggling to find the success the Hoosier fan base craves on the floor, but the dismissal of three more players this offseason hasn’t made life any easier off the floor. Indiana’s president isn’t pleased with the off-the-court developments and many prominent Indiana alums have been vocal about the Hoosiers falling below expectations. A big season would go a long way towards quieting Crean’s doubters.

2. Josh Pastner, Memphis: Much like Crean at Indiana, Pastner has achieved success but faltered compared to a passionate fan base’s expectations. Memphis missed the postseason altogether for the first time in 15 years with last season’s 18-14 record and the team’s best returning player, Austin Nichols, transferred to Virginia, following Nick King and Pookie Powell out the door. Pastner is going to rely heavily on the freshman Lawson brothers to make a postseason appearance immediately, but in a city that became accustomed to the success of John Calipari’s Tigers, will they be satisfied if we’ve already seen Peak Pastner?

3. Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech: After a 12-19 season and 14th place finish, Gregory is back for his fifth season at Georgia Tech. He’s never finished above ninth in the ACC. Gregory has coached one team to the NCAA tournament in his last 11 seasons and that came at Dayton in 2010. The local recruiting momentum is also limited for Georgia Tech under Gregory. The Yellow Jackets went 0-for-7 recruiting prospects from Georgia in the Rivals150 in the Class of 2015. In the Class of 2016, that number is 1-for-11.

4. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall: Entering his sixth season at Seton Hall, Willard has finished above .500 twice and owns a 30-60 mark in the Big East. Having never made the NCAA tournament as a head coach, the pressure is on Willard to produce even though experienced guards Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina both transferred out of the program.

5. John Groce, Illinois: Illinois missed the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1992 and that isn’t sitting well with Illini fans. Groce has never finished above seventh in the Big Ten and he hasn’t been able to reel in a lot of big-named recruits that Illinois finds itself a finalist for. Transfers like Darius Paul and Aaron Cosby haven’t lasted and proved to be harmful as replacements for those missed recruits. Illinois fans expect results and Groce needs to make the NCAAs again.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Illinois head coach John Groce (Getty Images)
Illinois head coach John Groce (Getty Images)

6. Barry Hinson, Southern Illinois: The once proud Southern Illinois program has had to endure Hinson’s three-year tenure. He’s thrown his own players under the bus during a postgame press conference and publicly remarked about his job security this spring. The Salukis own a 40-57 record and 19-35 mark in conference play under Hinson and he lost five transfers this offseason, three of them freshmen.

7. Donnie Jones, UCF: UCF was successful in Conference USA, but its been a rough back-to-back stretch for the program. Jones has never made the NCAA tournament and his 2010-11 wins were vacated for using ineligible players. Jones was also suspended three CUSA games and the program put on probation. Now he’s 25-36 overall and 9-27 in the American the last two seasons.

8. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State: It’s never a good sign when the team’s athletic director and biggest public booster, T. Boone Pickens, publicly have to back Travis Ford, which is precisely what happened in Stillwater this offseason. It’s a far worse sign that Ford owns no NCAA tournament wins since 2009 despite recruiting McDonald’s All-Americans like LeBryan Nash and Marcus Smart, who both played for multiple seasons.

9. Dave Rice, UNLV: Rice has proven to be a formidable force on the recruiting trail, but that success has yet to translate on the Thomas and Mack Center court, as the Rebs have missed the last two NCAA tournaments. Rice was feeling the heat a little bit this offseason when rumors of Ben Howland looking at UNLV began swirling, but Howland is now at Mississippi State and Rice landed hometown McDonald’s All-American Stephen Zimmerman. Rice still doesn’t own any NCAA tournament wins, and with yet another talented recruiting class, he needs a strong season.

10. Kim Anderson, Missouri: Anderson’s first season at Mizzou was a disaster as the team went 9-23 and 3-15 in the SEC. It’s not looking much better in the future as the Tigers lost some key pieces — namely Jonathan Williams III and Teki Gill-Cesear — to transfer.

Three-star point guard headed to UCF

Donnie Jones
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Sunday afternoon UCF head coach Donnie Jones and his staff reeled in their third verbal commitment in the Class of 2016, adding another player capable of running the point in the process.

6-foot-2 guard Jeremy Carter-Sheppard announced that he’ll be a Knight in 2016, joining forwards Clayton Hughes and Brachen Hazen as verbal commitments in UCF’s class for that year. Carter-Sheppard attends John Marshall HS in Richmond, Virginia, and he played on a Team Loaded VA grassroots team that included prospects such as Kentucky commit Sacha Killeya-Jones and recent Duke pledge Javin DeLaurier.

Carter-Sheppard took his official visit to UCF last weekend. His ability as a ball-handler and distributor will fill a need for UCF in 2016-17.

Of UCF’s three seniors entering the 2015-16 season one, Daiquan Walker, is a perimeter player. UCF has to replace its assists leader from last season in Brandon Goodwin, with Walker and leading scorer B.J. Taylor among those who will need to fill that role. There will be room for Carter-Sheppard to earn immediate playing time as a freshman, due in part to the eventual departure of Walker.