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UCF’s Tacko Fall is 7-foot-6, and his game is still growing

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Tacko Fall can never hide.

The tallest man in college basketball was walking from the University of Central Florida student union to his dormitory one recent morning, waiting for the light to change at an intersection when a driver — perhaps under the illusion that there’s more than one 7-foot-6 kid enrolled there — hit the brakes and yelled a question out the window.

“Yo,” the man yelled. “You Tacko?”

Fall waved, shrugged and smiled as the driver shot him a thumbs-up and drove away.

“I think he knew who I was,” Fall said.

This is an everyday thing for Elhadji Tacko Sereigne Diop Fall, a 21-year-old from Senegal who grew up playing soccer, couldn’t stand basketball when he first started playing five years ago and now has hopes of an NBA future. He bows his head to get through doorways, prefers sandals to shoes because they’re easier on his size 22 feet, and has found that even first-class airplane seats don’t give him enough leg room.

If everyone at UCF — and in college basketball — doesn’t know who he is yet, they might soon.

“He’s learning things now that another player might have learned five years ago, by no fault of his own,” UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. “He just picked up the game later than everybody else. He’s super-intelligent, speaks multiple languages, he’s just off the charts. He just needs more experience. And how do you gain experience? There’s only one way. You’ve got to get out there and do it.”

Fall is a quick study. He’s the reigning defensive player of the year in the American Athletic Conference, a blocker of 164 shots in his first two college seasons and a changer of countless others. He’s made 73 percent of his field-goal attempts in college, since most come around the rim. Defenses last season started pushing him more and more away from the basket, so Fall added a few pounds of muscle this offseason in hopes of pushing back.

He took a look at the NBA this past spring, visiting with five clubs to get their feedback on his game.

The critiques weren’t often kind. But he listened and learned.

“They showed me things,” said Fall, who is listed at 295 pounds. “I was able to see it, not just hear about it, but see it. Skill-wise, I added a lot to my offensive game. Defense is probably going to be the biggest thing for me because of my size and how I can affect the game, but the game has changed a lot. There’s versatile bigs now and I need to keep up.”

They need to keep up with him, too.

Fall might be an unusual star, but a star nonetheless. Walk with him around campus, and one of two things often happen — either fellow students yell his name and wave, or they try to act cool while sneaking a selfie. Fall doesn’t mind in either case. And yes, he’s heard every joke imaginable about his height and his name.

“He’s very comfortable with who he is,” said Dawkins, who played with 7-7 Manute Bol and 7-6 Shawn Bradley in the NBA and tries to impart wisdom to Fall on what he learned from their experiences.

Fall knows what they went through, but doesn’t want to be considered The Next Bol or The Next Bradley.

“I want to be the first me,” he said.

Fall truly is a center of attention.

Wichita State is new to the American Athletic Conference this season, so at the league’s media day last month, Shockers coach Gregg Marshall was learning plenty of new names and faces. Fall, who didn’t exactly need a “Hello My Name Is” sticker on his black UCF polo shirt, went up to Marshall and introduced himself anyway.

Marshall was impressed, and hadn’t even seen tape yet.

“I saw him in the hallway,” Marshall said. “I’ve never seen a human that big. He’s a great young man.”

Fall’s story is almost as unique as his size. Born in Senegal, his family went through some very difficult times. He often didn’t have enough to eat, to the point where he would have nothing for breakfast and then would try to ration his school lunch and preserve some to serve as dinner. Money was often tight.

When Fall was 16, Ibrahima N’Diaye changed everything. He ran a basketball academy and suggested to Fall that he try to play in the U.S.

There was one small problem. Fall despised the game, but eventually came around thanks to his basketball-loving grandmother.

“There used to be cartoons on every day at 5 o’clock,” Fall said. “And one day, I think our national basketball team was competing, my grandma put that on instead of the cartoons. We had only one TV, and I got mad.”

He got over it.

He came to the U.S., first going to Houston and then bouncing around a bit before settling in Florida. He enrolled at Liberty Christian Prep — a place where the devout Muslim could have plenty of spirited, respectful, thought-provoking conversations with teachers and other students about religion.

It was also a place where he realized basketball could provide a future.

“The tough times really make you appreciate what you have,” Fall said. “It’s destiny. I met a guy who I had never met before, went home to talked to my mom about playing basketball which I never imagined I would play, wound up coming to the States and ended up in Florida, the best place I could have ended up at. Everything worked out just fine.”

It might only get better.

He isn’t sure if he’ll declare for the NBA draft next spring or just again explore his options. He speaks three languages now and is trying to learn Japanese, largely because of his affinity for anime. Food isn’t hard to find now — pasta and chicken before every game is his routine. And he’s hoping that his mom, whom he hasn’t seen in five years, might be able to get to a UCF game this season.

And one day, he wants to go home with NBA money to do some good. Ask him his dream plan, and he’ll say it involves being able to build schools in Senegal.

“Kids look up to us,” Fall said. “You don’t always get opportunities to get out and do something with your life. Being able to help other people, when you can do that you’ve got to take advantage of it. Life is short. You’ve got to leave your mark. You’ve got to do something that matters. I want to do something that matters.”

VIDEO: Former Michigan athletes Austin Hatch and Abby Cole tie the knot

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The life of former Michigan basketball player Austin Hatch has not been without its challenges, as during his pre-college years he survived two separate plane crashes that took the lives of his parents, a stepmother and two siblings.

Hatch’s scholarship offer to Michigan was honored by head coach John Beilein despite the impact that the crashes had on Hatch physically, and Hatch would go on to earn his degree and land a job at the corporate office for Domino’s. This past spring, Hatch was honored during the team’s Senior Day festivities.

By that point Hatch was already engaged to Abby Cole, who played volleyball at Michigan from 2013 to 2016. And over the weekend, the two tied the knot in what was a highly emotional day for all involved. Below is a video of their wedding day, which was chronicled by Derek Postma.

Congratulations and best wishes to Abby and Austin on their marriage.

Arizona lands Cornell forward Stone Gettings for 2019-20 season

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Arizona landed its first addition for the 2019-20 season on Monday, as an Ivy League power forward revealed his intention to join Sean Miller’s program as a graduate student.

6-foot-9 forward Stone Gettings, who averaged 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game at Cornell last season, picked Arizona over Stanford and Vanderbilt according to Evan Daniels of 247Sports.com. A second team All-Ivy selection, Gettings is on course to graduate from Cornell in December. Instead of using his final season of eligibility at Cornell, Gettings will sit out this season before playing at Arizona.

Gettings does have a connection to the Arizona program, as one of his high school teammates was former point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The addition of Gettings will give Arizona a front court player who can score around the basket and from the perimeter, as he shot nearly 37 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Gettings isn’t the first Ivy League player to make his decision regarding a new school well in advance of his being able to move as a grad transfer, as former Yale point guard Makai Mason took a similar approach. Mason, who missed the entire 2016-17 season with a torn ACL, announced prior to last season that he be joining the Baylor program as a grad transfer for the 2018-19 campaign.

Not counting Gettings, Arizona has four scholarship front court players on its current roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019-20, in current junior Chase Jeter, sophomores Emmanuel Akot and Ira Lee and freshman Omar Thielemans.

Bill Self: Silvio De Sousa’s eligibility not in jeopardy ‘at this stage’

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One of the biggest question marks heading into the 2018-19 season for the Kansas Jayhawks is the eligibility status of Silvio De Sousa.

If you’ve forgotten, a player that is believed to be De Sousa was referenced in a second round of indictments handed by the FBI. In those documents, De Sousa’s guardian is alleged to have asked an Adidas rep for at least $20,000 to repay a rival apparel company for a payment that was made to secure De Sousa’s commitment to another school. Prior to a surprise commitment to Kansas, De Sousa was long considered a Maryland lean. His AAU program and high school team were both sponsored by Under Armour, whose flagship program is Maryland.

According to Kansas head coach Bill Self, at this point De Sousa is still eligible.

“Nobody at this stage has given us any information that he could be in jeopardy at this stage,” Self said.

This is not surprising.

The way that I would expect this to play out is similar to the way it played out for players that were referenced in the indictments that came down last fall. Kansas is going to string this thing along until we get to a point in time close to the start of the season, when they will announce that De Sousa is being held out of competition. It is better for Kansas to bite the bullet and play without De Sousa than it would be for them to risk knowingly suiting up a player that can be retroactively ruled ineligible.

That sucks for De Sousa.

The good news for Kansas, however, is that Udoka Azubuike is back, as is Mitch Lightfoot, while both Dedric and K.J. Lawson will be eligible as they add freshman David McCormack. There is more than enough frontcourt depth to withstand the loss of De Sousa.

VIDEO: The #ShiggyChallenge has reached college hoops with Loyola’s coach showing his skills

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New Loyola-Maryland head coach Tavaras Hardy became the first college basketball head coach to get in on the Shiggy Challenge, as he posted this video to twitter on Tuesday morning:

What is the #ShiggyChallenge?

It’s the latest viral dance, which started just two weeks ago when an online personality named Shiggy posted himself dancing to Drake’s “In My Feelings” on Instagram:

#Mood : KEKE Do You Love Me ? 😂😂😂 @champagnepapi #DoTheShiggy #InMyFeelings

A post shared by Shoker🃏 (@theshiggyshow) on

From there, it took off, with everyone from Odell Beckham Jr. to James Harden trying to prove themselves capable of taking down the #ShiggyChallenge.

And now Tavaras Hardy is doing it.

The end.

Takeaways from the UAA Challenge: Nico Mannion and Josh Green are must-see, Anthony Edwards tops 2020

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EMERSON, Ga. — Although the Peach Jam was huge focal point of the first evaluation period, Under Armour had themselves a solid event with the UAA Challenge just north of Atlanta. With plenty of signature matchups and five-star talents, there were a lot of things to watch during a brief stop there during the first live evaluation period.

Here are some things to watch with the UAA, when they’ll be the focal point during the third live evaluation week as they host the UAA Finals in Las Vegas next week.

NICO MANNION AND JOSH GREEN aRE THE BEST 1-2 PUNCH IN THE UAA

Over the last few years, the duo of Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis have built a big reputation in the UAA. Deservedly so. But, over the next few weeks, the West Coast Elite duo of point guard Nico Mannion and Josh Green will be more fun to watch.

While the duo of Antoine and Lewis could end up being better long-term prospects (that’s a debate for another time), the duo of Mannion and Green have a unique chemistry playing with each other that Antoine and Lewis can lack at times since they play such similar positions.

Both Mannion and Green made major waves this weekend in the UAA Challenge.

Confirming to NBCSports.com that he intends to reclassify into the Class of 2019 from the Class of 2020, Mannion looked like he was ready to make the leap into college hoops. Second in the event in assists per game, Mannion had 38 of them over a six-game span (6.3 per game) and only had four turnovers in 164 minutes of action.

Also shooting 59 percent from the field and 83 percent from the free-throw line on his way to 15.8 points per contest, Mannion was incredibly efficient. He showed court savvy, athleticism and a solid perimeter jumper. Mannion has Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Marquette, Oregon and USC hard after him as he will be an intriguing point guard to watch during July.

Green, a 6-foot-6 two-way wing, was also incredibly efficient as he shot 71 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range on his way to 18.0 points, 3.1 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game. With four or more assists in four games, Green has natural floor vision and passing ability to go along with his scoring prowess. After showcasing a shaky perimeter jumper at times in the past, Green has worked with a trainer the past few months to become more consistent from deep. Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA, USC and Villanova are some of the schools that Green mentioned to NBCSports.com as being in the mix.

Both Green and Mannion are already five-star prospects. It’ll just be interesting to see them close out the live period the next two weeks because they have a chance to make some major noise.

ANTHONY EDWARDS HAS A CHANCE TO BE 2020’S BEST

The Class of 2019 doesn’t have a lot of star power in terms of No. 1 quality players — my colleague Rob Dauster went over that yesterday — but there seem to be a few worthy contenders in the Class of 2020.

Among them includes 6-foot-5 shooting guard Anthony Edwards. The Atlanta native was one of the must-see players of the first evaluation period. Playing in a high-profile matchup against five-star 2020 guard Jaden Springer, Edwards displayed a natural scoring ability thanks to his ridiculous athleticism and acumen for putting the ball in the basket; he’s what hoopheads will call a “bucket-getter”.

Although his jumper wasn’t falling from three-point range (5-for-22), Edwards still shot 57 percent from the field while putting up 22.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during the weekend.

Displaying more vision and passing ability with his Atlanta Xpress team than in the camp setting, Edwards looked like a more complete guard at the UAA Challenge. He also defended to the tune of an event-leading 2.4 steals per game as Edwards has long arms and a quick first step to jump into passing lanes.

There is plenty of competition for the top spot in 2020, but Edwards is going to be among the major contenders with his summer play.

JEREMIAH EARL-ROBINSON IS AS PRODUCTIVE AS ANYONE IN THE CLASS

This summer has seen Jeremiah Robinson-Earl produce everywhere he has played. The 6-foot-8 Class of 2019 forward helped the USA U18 team win a gold medal while also leading the UAA Challenge in rebounds the first week of July.

A double-double machine who is improving his perimeter skill, Robinson-Earl is a hard-playing and intriguing combo forward who should join a high-level college rotation immediately. He has great secondary leaping ability that enables him to be a menace on the offensive glass as he’s particularly adept at putbacks.

If Robinson-Early can show an improved perimeter jumper and an ability to attack off the dribble, then he’ll have a chance to be a top-ten player in the class. He has the motor and production to rise if he fixes his flaws and he’ll have plenty of time to be a showcase player at IMG Academy next season.

Kansas is a perceived favorite with Robinson-Earl, as Bill Self coached him on the U18 team over the past several weeks before the live period. North Carolina and Arizona are among some other schools also trying to stay in the mix for Robinson-Earl as they try to pry him away from the Midwest.