The biggest name in the 2019 NBA Draft pool was Zion Williamson, the teenage phenom from Duke University who, as expected, went to the New Orleans Pelicans with the No. 1 overall pick.
The biggest man in the 2019 NBA Draft pool was Tacko Fall, the 23-year-old from the University of Central Florida whose face-to-face (more like face-to-chest) meeting with Williamson in this year’s NCAA Tournament was one of the most anticipated games of the college basketball season.
Fall measures 7 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs about 290 pounds. He has a wingspan of 8 feet, 4 inches. He wears a size-22 shoe. He can dunk without jumping.
The massive center was projected to be a second-round pick by a lot of mock drafts and NBA analysts, but he went undrafted on Thursday and signed a free-agent contract with the Boston Celtics on Friday.
When he arrived as a freshman at UCF in 2015, Elhadji Tacko Sereigne Diop Fall was little more than a giant presence full of potential.
His basketball journey began in Dakar, Senegal, where he was born and raised Muslim. At 16, he moved to Texas in the United States to attend high school. He soon relocated to Florida, where he finished his school school education and began college.
By the time he graduated from UCF with a degree in Computer Science, Fall was a legit NBA prospect who had some game to go along with his intriguing size.
Fall averaged 11.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last season. His 280 total blocks are a school record, and his 74.0 field-goal percentage is an NCAA Division 1 career record.
Fall opened a lot of eyes during that aforementioned game against Duke. Williamson and the top-seeded Blue Devils won by one point over the Knights in a thriller that may have been the best game of the tournament, but Fall was impressive with 15 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
The biggest question going into the game was whether Williamson — who had become a viral dunking sensation in high school — would be able to throw one down over Fall. Not only did that not happen, but Fall stuffed Williamson a few times on the national player of the year’s powerhouse drives to the rim.
Basketball giants like Fall traditionally struggle with the speed and quickness of the game, and often don’t have highly developed skills because their height alone has always been enough to get them a spot on a roster and a hefty paycheck.
Fall has turned himself into someone who can actually play basketball, though, not just a very big person wearing a basketball uniform. He is relatively quick and light on his feet. He’s also worked some actual offensive moves into his repertoire to complement his shot-blocking, which is his most attractive asset.
“You don’t see 7’5″ guys with that coordination move the way that he does,” former Atlanta Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox told Yahoo Sports prior to the draft.
In another era, Fall probably would’ve been a first-round draft pick. Names like Shawn Bradley, Michael Olowokandi and Hasheem Thabeet (also Muslim) come to mind for NBA fans who remember a time when being over seven feet tall was a golden ticket to the top of the draft board. Some giants like Yao Ming, Rik Smits and Ralph Sampson actually lived up to their potential as game-changing big men, but there are a lot of others who failed to make an impact.
The league has changed, though. A premium has been placed on speed, versatility and the ability to shoot with range. A player who fits Fall’s profile is, ironically, a dinosaur in today’s NBA. That doesn’t mean there is no place for him, but this is no longer a league in which every team is clamoring for any large body who can move a little bit.
If Fall manages to stick with the Celtics, or if he finds his NBA home with another franchise, he could be one of the league’s Muslim players who is outspoken on issues involving Islam.
When he was just a freshman at UCF, Fall was not shy about addressing controversies such as Donald Trump (during his first Presidential campaign) calling for Muslims to be banned from entering the country.
“(Trump) just needs to think … because not all Muslims are that way. That’s not the right approach,” Fall told the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s definitely not how I was taught. Because where I’m from, it’s very peaceful.”
As an undrafted rookie, Fall will have to prove he belongs on an NBA roster by showcasing his skills during the summer league, which begins next month in Las Vegas.