When Tacko Fall walked into the Liberty Christian Academy office of his coach, Tony Austin, he paused at the doorway for just a split second to prepare himself.
As you glance toward the huge shadow, it can’t help but startle you as the 7-foot-6 native of Senegal tilts his head to the left then ducks to negotiate his way into the office. If you are a college basketball coach and took one glance at Fall, you would certainly want to let out a scream, fall to your knees and start begging.
Actually, a lot of coaches did their version of that last fall as the early signing day approached in November. Fall visited Wake Forest, Georgetown and Georgia Tech, ducking in the doorways of head coaches with huge grins on their faces. But in the end, Fall, who attends the private school in Tavares with a 3.8 grade point average and can speak four languages, is something else.
If you spend some time with the giant, you realize right away he’s not only big, he’s extremely bright.
“He’s probably the most recognized kid in the country,” Austin said. “(Recruiting) has all been pretty good. There’s nothing bad to say about him. He’s got his faults on the floor, but off the floor he’s a super kid.”
Fall, averaging 24 points and 17 boards, came to Austin with a shocker in late October. He liked Florida after stops in Texas, Ohio, Tennessee and Georgia, but his admission to schools had been complicated by paperwork since coming to the United States two years ago.
He was spotted at a camp in Africa by Ibrahim N’Diaye, whose brother, Mamadou, played in the NBA. He helped him get to this country so he could develop his hoops game, which he’s actually only played about four years.
One of the coaches who worked the hardest to get his attention, with everyone else obviously eyeballing Fall like gold, was UCF’s Donnie Jones. They hit it off right away. And Jones got to know the backroads to the school almost with his eyes closed. It worked.
“It was more like a trust between the coach and I and the relationship with the players, the coaching staff, the environment, all of that,” said Fall, who later in the gym reached up and dunked the ball without jumping.
Adds Fall, “(Jones) is just a great person with great character. He’s very honest. That’s what you like in a person, you like someone who’s honest. We knew a lot of people who would be shocked (at his college choice) but you have to do what you have to do.”
Other kids working out didn’t even turn around when Fall palmed the ball, took a couple of steps and dunked another ball with his elbows tickling the rim. They’re used to it, of course.
But for the average person, it’s shocking to watch. So are Fall’s size 21 shoes.
“One day, we’ll probably see him in the NBA,” says Austin, who’s no rookie to dealing with big men. He’s also coached Ohio State’s Anthony Lee and Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson in AAU ball.
The team travels quite a bit to play better competition, so Fall has gone up against some of the better big men in high school ball and has dominated them all. He’s not a project. He’s a future standout. That’s why when Austin heard his star was heading to UCF, he balked.
“When he came to me, at first I actually turned him away,” Austin said. “I said, ‘Go think about it. Just pray on it. I don’t want you to make the decision so quick.’ He came back the next day and sat down and said, ‘Coach, I want to stay in the area, I like Orlando.’ . . . Once Tacko committed to him, I called Donnie to let him know.
When Fall, who was 7-foot at the age of 15, arrives in Orlando, it could bring change like the Knights program has never seen before. Fall, whose growth plates have closed, is 3 inches taller than any player in the NBA. He’s the biggest prep recruit in the nation. And he’s been in the U.S. long enough to be completely adjusted, speaks the language fluently and is extremely relaxed and outgoing with strangers.
“It’s just the more he plays, the better off he’s going to be,” Austin said. “He doesn’t have a whole lot, I guess you would say, hours in. Every day, he gets better. We’ve got to work on his strength and conditioning. It’s a process but he’s coming a long, long way, a 360-degree turnaround from a Tacko this year and a Tacko last year. … Defensively, he’s better than (Lee and Johnson) are. It’s not as hard when you are 7-6, you block a lot of shots and contest. He’s got a natural instinct to block shots.”
The dumbest question he usually gets from outsiders?
“People asked me if (Senegal) was like a jungle,” said Fall, with a smirk. “It’s actually not that different from here. People here have more money, of course, and more buildings and stuff, but it’s not that much different. … They do (stare at him). You get used to it.”
One of the people took to Fall right away is another African hoops star, Hakeem Olajuwon.
“He told me I need to be patient,” Fall said. “Big men take longer to develop. I watch a lot of NBA guys, just watch their tapes.”
A lot of people will be watching Tacko Fall tapes very shortly. Everything about him is already massive and almost entertaining to watch.
UCF fans, get ready. You’ve never seen anything like this.