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Tacko Fall has become one of the city of Boston's hottest names in recent weeks. Since signing with the Boston Celtics as an undrafted free agent out of UCF, the 7-foot-7 center he has become a fan-favorite and has done quite a bit to insert himself into the battle for a spot on the Celtics' roster.
But things weren't always easy for Fall. When he first came over to the United States from Senegal during his high school days, he was just learning how to play the sport. And by his own admission at the Basketball Hall of Fame's 60 Days of Summer program, he wasn't very good.
"I was terrible," Fall said. "I was terrible when I had first started. But obviously, when you start a new sport, there is going to be a learning curve. That doesn't mean you're bad, it just means you need to learn how to play the game. So, I went through that, but I just put my head down and knew I was on a mission over here. And thankfully, I had a lot of people helping me with my game mentally and I just never gave up. I just kept pushing."
Fall's hard work paid off, as he was able to develop into a solid high school player and was heavily recruited by colleges because of his size and performance. He would eventually go on to play at UCF and spend four years at the school.
Fall credited his development to having a chance to learn from Hakeem Olajuwon, who helped to mentor Fall during his early days in Texas, and the UCF coaching staff. But additionally, he credited another unlikely source for helping him in basketball. And that was soccer, a sport that he had played frequently while growing up in Senegal.
"What soccer does is it really helps you with your footwork," Fall said. "That's the main thing. And as you may have seen, a lot of guys that played soccer before and made the transition to basketball really have a different type of footwork and really can move pretty well. So, I feel like that's what soccer really helped me with."
And Fall's footwork was one of the things that he wanted to show off during his time in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Despite Fall's great senior season at UCF -- he averaged 11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game in 2018-19 -- he went undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft. He was scooped up by the Boston Celtics soon after the draft and was ready to prove himself in the summer league.
In Vegas, Fall would become one of the biggest stars because of his ability to make easy standing dunks and impact shots on the defensive end. The fan-favorite averaged 7.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in just over 12 minutes per game. And when he reflected on his experience there, he was very grateful for the fan support he received early in his NBA career.
"I'm thankful," Fall said of the support he received during the summer league. "I feel really blessed to be in the position that I am. I didn't expect what happened in Vegas, but whenever I stepped on the court and looked around and I saw all these people cheering for me - like I said, where I came from - it really inspired me to keep pushing. Thank you for your support, I really appreciate it and it doesn't go unnoticed."
The next step in Fall's inspirational story will be fighting for a spot on the Celtics roster. He will have a chance to compete for one of 15 roster spots and two two-way contracts over the course of the Celtics' training camp and the NBA preseason.
But it's certainly safe to say that fans will be rooting for him in that pursuit.
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Tacko Fall reflects on development as a basketball player: 'I was terrible' originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston