CHICAGO — The jaw-dropping official measurement came in at the NBA draft combine on Wednesday. UCF center Tacko Fall measured 7-foot-7 in shoes, the latest Bunyan-esque figure to add to a career story defined by, well, tall tales.
Fall captured America’s imagination during the NCAA tournament when UCF squared off with Duke and Fall boldly declared that he wouldn’t let Duke’s Zion Williamson dunk on him. UCF nearly pulled off the upset, as Fall and the Knights held their ground. But Williamson ended up drawing an and-one basket in the game’s final seconds to help top-seeded Duke escape with a 77-76 second-round victory.
When the NBA draft combine officially begins here Thursday, Fall will resume a familiar role as the most intriguing player on the court. Since arriving in America from Senegal more than six years ago, Fall’s size has drawn plenty of attention. He checked in here at 7-foot-5¼ without shoes and an 8-foot-2¼ wingspan. He weighed 289 pounds with just 6.8 percent body fat.
Fall has the ultimate opportunity here this week to allow his play to draw more attention than his size, as his performance in the G League Elite Camp earlier this week earned him an invitation to the combine. For Fall, who would be one of just nine players in league history to stand over 7-5, the opportunity to get drafted or land on an NBA roster increases with the two extra days of exposure.
“Stay true to myself and do what I do well, I’m a great defensive player,” he said of his role. “I can impact the game in that way the most.”
His explanation of his offensive game included an unintentional summary of why so many are intrigued by him: “I’m an easy target. I’m hard to miss.”
And these days, there’s an increasing curiosity for teams envisioning a role for Fall. The positive playoff moments for Boban Marjanovic have allowed teams to project a defensive stopper role. Former Atlanta Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox saw Fall at the G League camp earlier this week and wanted to see more.
“I’m impressed with how easily he moves,” Wilcox told Yahoo Sports. “He runs well and has great coordination and balance. Having no base of knowledge, other than TV, I’m very much impressed. You don’t see 7-foot-5 guys with that coordination move the way that he does. I’m intrigued.”
Fall said that he has spent the nearly two months since the season ended working out in Los Angeles with noted NBA trainer Drew Hanlen. Fall averaged 11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks for UCF this season, but his defining statistics may have come with his struggles at the free-throw line. He shot 36 percent from the free-throw line (59 for 163), a 10 percent dip from the prior season. That led to hybrid Hack-A-Shaq strategies, and made Fall an offensive liability at the end of games.
Not surprisingly, Fall said that he and Hanlen worked a lot on free throws. They also focused on his core strength and conditioning, as he tends to wear down after a few trips down the floor. Fall recognized what teams want to see from him and realizes that it’s similar to what Marjanovic has provided during his career as a paint filler and defensive stopper.
“I was happy to see Boban do really good,” Fall said. “No matter how much people say the game has changed, you’re always going to need someone like that.”
A realistic projection for Fall would be a late second-round pick who gets stashed to develop in the G League. Fall has impressed teams during meetings here with his polish, humility and story. He came to America from Dakar, bounced around different high school situations across the country before finally landing with a stable family in Florida. He spent more than six years in America without seeing his mother, who flew over to see him on his senior night at UCF. That perseverance and his engaging personality has left an impression on teams.
“Ten or 12 years ago, he’d have been a first-round pick” said a veteran scout. “He runs better in a straight line than Roy Hibbert, and he’s going to get a look in our league because of Boban.”
The pace and space of the modern NBA game have turned bulky and limited bigs — think former Utah center Mark Eaton — into relics of the past. But Fall has worked himself into having a shot at the NBA.
“He’s played well enough out here to at least say there may be a path for him,” Wilcox said. “Even though the modern-day [game] works toward more perimeter-oriented big men.”
There’s a chance that Fall’s game may translate better overseas, where he can guard the rim without worrying about defensive three seconds being called. But his goal is clear.
“I’m open to anything,” Fall said. “My end goal is definitely the NBA. I’ll take any route to that. I believe that I belong, that I can play in the NBA.”
And whether he lands a gig there or not, Fall is focused on giving back to kids in Senegal so they can chase their hoop dreams in a more linear path than his.
“Especially in my country,” he said of giving back. “I want to give the kids in my country the same opportunity that I was given. The way I started, I had a lot of help. More guidance would have been more helpful. Just me having the opportunity to do that. Give back. Have camps. Help kids ... that’s something I want to invest my time in moving forward.”
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