Tacko Fall

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.”

College Basketball’s Most Improved Players

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It really shouldn’t be all that much of a shock that Luke Kennard tops the list as the nation’s most improved player.

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has been the best player on the roster for Duke this season, a team that is ranked in the top five by everyone with a valid a opinion and ranked No. 1 by the savvy forward-thinkers. He’s averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 boards and 3.3 assists and has been Duke’s best player in their four toughest games this season; against Michigan State, Rhode Island, Kansas and Florida, Kennard is averaging 23.8 points.

What’s surprising about Kennard’s season isn’t that he became an effective college basketball player – he was a McDonald’s All-American, he averaged 11.8 points last season, and he scored more points in high school than a guy named LeBron James – but that he’s been able to dominate like this on a team that has a chance to win a national title. That’s how good he’s been for Duke this season. Playing without Jayson Tatum for seven games, with a banged-up Grayson Allen and without Harry Giles III, Kennard’s has made Duke look like they could win the ACC and make the Final Four even if they never get back to full health.

He went from being the third-best player on a two-man Duke team as a freshman to this. Who saw that coming?

2. Manu Lecomte, Baylor: Lecomte was a good player at Miami during the 2014-15 season. Not great, but a solid piece for a good team. After sitting out last season at Baylor, he’s managed to play his way into being one of the best point guards in the Big 12 and one of the biggest reasons that the Bears are currently sitting in the top five of both polls. Lecomte’s averaging 13.9 points this year, and although his scoring has been somewhat inconsistent, he’s played well in Baylor’s big games. But the truly notable improvement has been in his ability to create offense for his teammates. Lecomte is averaging 5.3 assists after averaging 1.8 assists as a sophomore with Miami, and that playmaking was the biggest question mark that Baylor had entering the season.

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3. Semi Ojeleye, SMU: Ojeleye is a former four-star recruit that played a season and a half at Duke, so it’s not like this is a guy that never had any ability. We just never saw it featured at the college level, and now that we have, he’s proven to be worth the hype he had in high school. Having taken advantage of a season-and-a-half as a redshirt, he’s averaging 17.8 points and 7.6 boards on the year while, as a 6-foot-7 forward with elite athleticism, is shooting 41.5 percent from three. The Mustangs are still trying to find their footing after the Larry Brown fiasco this summer, but Ojeleye has turned into a really good piece to build around and one of the best players in the AAC.

4. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson is generously listed at 6-foot-6, he isn’t an elite athlete and he’s a power forward, a front court weapon who does most of his damage in the low- and mid-post. And yet, he’s turned into the best player on Notre Dame and, along with Matt Farrell (who is much-improved in his own right), is the biggest reason the Irish appear to me much better than we expected. He’s averaging team-highs of 16.5 points and 10.8 boards this season and, at the least, deserves a mention in all-american consideration. Is anyone more underrated than Mike Brey when it comes to developing talent in his program?

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Bonzie Colson #35 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish attempts a shot as Donte DiVincenzo #10 of the Villanova Wildcats defends during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Bonzie Colson (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

5. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Saint Mary’s has found their next great Australian, and that’s Landale. He was super-efficient in limited minutes as a sophomore, but the 6-foot-11 Landale has been playing at like all-american this season for the Gaels. He’s averaging 18.4 points and 8.5 boards while shooting 67.4 percent from the floor as the anchor in Randy Bennett’s offensive attack.

6. Kyron Cartwright, Providence: Ed Cooley has always centered his offensive attack around his point guard. That’s just how he likes to play. Whether it’s Kris Dunn or Bryce Cotton or Vincent Council, Cooley’s has always demanded that his point guards carry a heavy load. The biggest question we had with the Friars this season was who would take on that role this year. Well, we have an answer now: It’s Kyron Cartwright, a player that few outside of the Big East diehards would have heard of entering the season. Cartwright is averaging just 8.8 points on the year, but he’s fifth in the country posting 7.7 assists per night, an incredibly important number for the better-than-we-thought Friars because of the lack of weapons this team has offensively. The fact that he’s doing so while averaging significantly fewer turnovers than Kris Dunn did as a starter is notable as well.

7. John Collins, Wake Forest: Before the season, who would have predicted that Collins would develop into the best player on Demon Deacons? Playing just 24 minutes a game, Collins is posting 18.0 points and 10.7 boards and has already collected six double-doubles on the season, including five in his last five games.

8. Tacko Fall, UCF: The 7-foot-6 Fall is so much more than just a super-tall dude that found his way onto a basketball court. He’s averaging 13.8 points, a nation’s-best 13.1 boards and 2.6 blocks in just 28 minutes a night. He’s running the floor, he’s scoring on post touches and he’s doing it all while staying out of foul trouble, which can be an issue for someone his size. The next step? Improve on that 34.1 percent free throw shooting before Hack-a-Tacko becomes a thing.

9. Kyle Washington, Cincinnati: Washington is another guy who took advantage of a redshirt year and a new environment. After struggling to find minutes in his two seasons at N.C. State, Washington has turned into the best player for the Bearcats, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 boards for Mick Cronin’s club, who appear to be the favorite in the AAC and are ranked in the top 25.

10. Obi Enechionya, Temple: Enechionya has developed into a real life NBA prospect. He’s turned into Temple’s go-to guy, averaging 18.6 points on the season, but what makes him such an intriguing player is a unique aspect of his skill-set: At 6-foot-10, he’s shooting 49.2 percent from three (while attempting more than six per game) and blocking 2.9 shots a night. No player has averaged three made threes per game and 2.9 blocks per game in a season since 1993, which is as far back as I can find data.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball up court against the Hofstra Pride in the first half of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center on December 11, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Isaiah Briscoe  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • 11. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky: Briscoe has been terrific this season for Kentucky, but it’s hard to rank him in the top ten of this list when the single-biggest flaw in his game – his perimeter shooting – hasn’t gotten much better.
  • 12. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans has developed into one of the best point guards in the country, but it’s tough to figure out where to rank him because we saw this coming before he got injured at the end of last season.
  • 13. Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech: The bright spot in what will likely be a long Georgia Tech season, Lammers is averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 boards and 4.6 blocks, which leads the country. He averaged 3.6 points and 4.0 boards as a sophomore last year.
  • 14. Khyri Thomas, Creighton: We knew how good Mo Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster would be. I don’t think many expected Thomas to average 13.3 points, shoot 53.3 percent from three and develop into Creighton’s best perimeter defender.
  • 15. Esa Ahmad and Nathan Adrian, West Virginia: The biggest reason that West Virginia hasn’t taken a step back with what they lost last year? Ahmad and Adrian are playing at a borderline all-Big 12 level.
  • 16. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has turned into one of the best non-Kentucky players in the SEC this season. Check this line: 18.7 points, 6.7 boards, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.3 blocks, 48.3 percent on threes. Now he just has to get back from suspension.
  • 17. JaCorey Williams, MTSU: It’s tough to know just how much of this is opportunity and the level he’s playing at, but Williams has gone from averaging 4.5 points at Arkansas to averaging 19.0 points for one of the nation’s most dangerous mid-majors.
  • 18. Kyle Kuzma, Utah: We expected Kuzma to take a step forward this season, and while his scoring numbers aren’t quite as high as I thought they would be, his averages of 15.8 points, 10.3 boards and 3.3 assists for a young Utah team are impressive.
  • 19. Reid Travis, Stanford: Travis came off of injury to be the best player for Stanford this season, averaging 17.7 points and 9.4 boards.
  • 20. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan has played his way into all-american consideration, but he’d be higher on this list if his turnover issues hadn’t popped up of late. He has 13 giveaways in his last two games.

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.

7-foot-6 UCF center Tacko Fall throws down between the legs dunk (VIDEO)

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While one may be led to believe that throwing down a between the legs dunk is an easy feat for a 7-footer, due mainly to the fact that they don’t have too high to go before reaching the rim, not all big men have the coordination needed to pull off such a feat. That isn’t the case for Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-6 center who will be a freshman at UCF this upcoming season.

Fall managed to complete this dunk, with there not being need for much more than a hop after a couple dribbles to the basket. While it may not be compared with dunks thrown down by contest champions of the past, the fact that Fall was able to do this speaks well to his coordination and athletic ability.

Video credit: Jaime Boyer

Senior mixtape of 7-foot-6 UCF incoming freshman Tacko Fall (VIDEO)

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UCF has a 7-foot-6 center coming into the equation for the 2015-16 season when Tacko Fall becomes a member of the roster.

Last week, Home Team Hoops released his senior mixtape and it’s pretty fun to watch a center who doesn’t need to jump to touch the rim dominate opponents at the high school level.

CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: UCF lands a unique center, Tennessee’s impact wing, Saint Louis gets rising center

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Chris Clarke (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

Each Monday and Friday, College Basketball Talk’s Scott Phillips goes over some important news and notes in the world of college basketball recruiting. This week, Central Florida lands a unique center, Tennessee gets an impact wing and Saint Louis grabs a rising center.

Central Florida lands a unique center

After a poor first season in the American that saw them go 13-18 and 4-14 in the league, head coach Donnie Jones needed an influx of talent at UCF.

This week, Jones picked up a unique three-star center to join a solid four-man class in 2015. Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-5 center pledged to the Knights earlier this week and his massive size means UCF can throw a different defensive look out on the floor for a few minutes a game.

Due to his massive size, Fall doesn’t move the best from end to end, but he does present a major vertical threat as a rim defender. Just ask defenders who faced E1T1 in the EYBL when Fall was under the rim: he makes it challenging down there because you don’t see that kind of size very often.

Putting Fall under the basket in a zone for a few minutes of game should help the defense, especially holding a lead and slowing the game down.

Fall joins three-star prospect Chad Brown, sharpshooter Chance McSpadden and JuCo transfer Tanksley Efianayi in UCF’s 2015 class and they should get some wins in the American if everything goes right.

Tennessee gets an impact wing and a winner

Donnie Tyndall hasn’t gotten people fired up about his landing some three-star prospects in the 2015 class — and they’re good players who should contribute — but landing four-star wing Chris Clarke is a great grab for Tennessee. The Volunteers beat UConn, Creighton and Virginia Tech for one of the highest motored players in the 2015 class.

Clarke helped lead EYBL member Boo Williams to a lot of success and wins this past grassroots season and his effort on the defensive end is contagious to others on the floor. CBT‘s Rob Dauster made mention of Clarke comparing effort-wise to a player Tyndall helped put in the NBA in his former Morehead State star Kenneth Faried. They’re different positions, like Rob mentions, but it’s the same kind of hustle plays that separates them from their peers.

Getting a player like Clarke is a recruiting win because players want to play with high-energy guys who making winning plays like Clarke. This is a really nice win for Donnie Tyndall.

The Volunteers now own commitments from Clarke, the No. 59 player in the 2015 class, three-star 6-foot-4 shooting guard Shembari Phillips and three-star wing forward Admiral Schofield.

Saint Louis lands a rising center

Matt Neufeld had a strong July live evaluation period and garnered high-major scholarship offers from all over the country. The 6-foot-10 Neufeld is doing a postgrad year and grabbed scholarship offers from Saint Louis, St. Mary’s, Colorado and Clemson.

After narrowing his focus to the Billikens and St. Mary’s, Neufeld received a call from Duke, according to Scout.com‘s Evan Daniels, but ultimately chose Saint Louis because of his strong relationship with the coaching staff.

Landing the three-star center is a nice grab for the Billikens, who need some big bodies to compete with some strong incoming forwards at other A-10 programs like VCU.