Over and Above
Tacko Fall Looks to Crack Cleveland's Collection of Big Men
Being a fan favorite is always a major plus for a player. And it sure doesn’t hurt when that player’s head coach counts himself as a member of that club.
”I love Tacko (Fall),” beamed J.B. Bickerstaff at the mention of the biggest big in Cleveland’s Camp. “I am a fan. I am in that fan favorite group of Tacko’s.”
Not since Matthew Dellavedova’s return in December 2018 has Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse crowd been so electrified to see a Cavs reserve take the floor. As the fourth quarter has rolled around in each of the Cavs’ recent preseason home contests, the fans’ energy has been focused on getting the massive big man into the game.
”I’m thankful for it,” smiled the Senegalese center. “It’s not something I take for granted. It’s not every day that you get that kind of interaction from fans. It means a lot to me. I just want to go out there, do what I need to do, do my job. But at the same time, I’m thankful for it.”
One of four players signed just before Training Camp, Fall – who, at 7-5, is one of the tallest humans on the planet – is trying to crack the Cavaliers roster with just a single preseason game remaining. The former University of Central Florida standout played in both home contests – going 2-of-4 from the floor, adding a pair of boards and a block in four fourth-quarter minutes of work on Friday night.
If those numbers seem modest, it’s because Fall – who went undrafted in 2019 – has played sparingly in his two previous seasons with the Celtics. The former 4.0 student has only played in 25 career contests – averaging 2.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and just under a blocked shot per in that small sample size.
Even with the limited experience, Fall still expanded his skillset in Beantown.
”We had a lot of small bigs in Boston, so I was kind of playing like them – I was up under screens, I had to get out of my comfort zone,” said Fall. “That’s something that they pushed me to do over there. So now that I’m playing kind of the way I’m used to playing, having those experiences in my first two years is going to be a plus.”
Fall signed with the Celtics after a solid college career at UCF – earning American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honors as a sophomore and finishing second nationally in field goal percentage the following year.
Now he’s trying to make his way in the Association – first with Brad Stevens’ squad and now with the young Cavaliers.
With Cleveland’s starting backcourt on the shelf for Sunday’s matchup against Indy, Coach Bickerstaff experimented with an extremely big lineup – moving Lauri Markkanen to the 3 alongside fellow seven-footers, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. And the results were largely positive. All three notched double-figure scoring, and Mobley added double-digit boards. Mobley and Markkanen blocked three shots apiece.
And with the Cavs’ new stable of big men, floor time will be hard to come by for Fall if he’s able to make the squad. In the meantime, he’s enjoying the time with his tall tree teammates.
”I love playing with them,” said Fall, who was born in Dakar, Senegal and came to the States when he was just 16. “I love playing with Evan. Love complementing Jarrett. You have Lauri, a very versatile big. Jarrett and I are kind of similar in what we do. So, it’s been great. They come in there and do their job. Whenever I come in, I’m going to complement them and do my job.”
"I’ve had fun on the court, playing the way I know I can play. (The Cavs) have been utilizing my strengths, and that’s something I’ve really been thankful for."
And whether he’s put up major numbers or not, Fall’s presence has been a positive influence in Camp.
”He’s a guy who we’ve had an opportunity to be up close with in heavy minutes every day in practice, and there’s more that you see on the outside looking in,” praised Bickerstaff. “If you put him on the line and have him run sprints, he’s fast. He can move laterally. He’s quick around the basket. And … he’s an unbelievable human being. Every single day he comes to work with the same attitude, the same joy in his face. He looks you in the eye when he speaks to you. So, he’s the type of person that you just root for in general.”
Fall – who set the all-time NBA Draft Combine records for tallest height in shoes (7 ft. 7 in.), largest wingspan (8 ft. 2.25 in.) and highest standing reach (10 ft. 2.5 in.) – has one more preseason game and a handful of practices to continue impressing the coaching staff.
But the pressure hasn’t dampened his mood.
”I’ve really had fun,” said Fall. “It kind of reminds me of my days at UCF, the way we played, the positions that they put me in, it’s kind of similar to the way I played in college – which is ‘protect the basket, don’t worry about anything else.’ That’s what I’ve been focused on in Camp. Bring the positivity, bring good energy around the team. Being a good teammate, coming in and working hard.
”Like I said, I’ve had fun on the court, playing the way I know I can play. (The Cavs) have been utilizing my strengths, and that’s something I’ve really been thankful for.”