Back to where Tacko-Mania began to take shape

Back to where Tacko-Mania began to take shape

ORLANDO, Fla. -- No matter where the Boston Celtics go these days, the love that fans have for Tacko Fall is hard to ignore. 

Well if you were wondering where Tacko-Mania first began to sprout, here in Orlando was indeed a jumping-off point. 

The 7-foot-7 center spent four years playing with the University of Central Florida. After going undrafted in last June’s NBA draft, Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Boston Celtics where he’s among a handful of players in the Celtics’ training camp vying for the last remaining roster spot.

When the Celtics take on the Orlando Magic on Friday night, Fall will have a large contingent of friends from his college days as well as the usual larger-than-normal fanbase that follows Fall seemingly wherever the Celtics are. 

Every opportunity he gets to suit up and play in a game, Fall sees it as a blessing.

But he admits it’ll be special to play in front of so many of his teammates who supported his basketball journey years ago. 

“It means the world to me,” said Fall who added, “It’s going to feel weird at the same time, playing the game with them on the sidelines. But I’m looking forward to seeing them.”

Fall would discuss the tremendous support he received from the UCF campus as well as the Orlando community.

And the support has been strong since becoming a Celtic as well. 

After having spent time with Fall since he signed with the Celtics, Boston head coach Brad Stevens understands why he is so beloved by so many.

“First of all, Tacko is a really likable guy,” Stevens said. “Obviously when he walks into a room, everyone is in awe of his size. But what I’ve said and I hope people know first and foremost, is he’s a great guy. He’s an extremely hard worker, he’s humble, he’s gracious … he’ll take a picture with anyone who wants to take a picture with him and a lot of people want to take pictures with him. I hope people appreciate him for who he is, and how hard he’s working to be in the NBA.”

So it’s only fitting that Tacko Fall’s first road game in the NBA, brings him to Orlando, the place where his NBA journey first began to take shape. 

“It’s going to feel like a dream, just considering all I worked for to get here,” Fall said. “Everything I’ve been through and just have the opportunity … it’s gonna feel like a dream.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Jayson Tatum be a championship team's best player in 2020?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Jayson Tatum be a championship team's best player in 2020?

Expectations are very high for the Boston Celtics with the NBA's restart taking place later this month at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

The Celtics have become a popular pick as a team that could make a deep run in the 2020 NBA playoffs, and potentially reach the NBA Finals.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

NBA legend and six-time champion Scottie Pippen said earlier this week on ESPN's "The Jump" that Celtics star Jayson Tatum already is capable of being the best player on a championship-caliber team. Tatum is in the midst of a breakout year, and he's leading the team in scoring at 23.6 points per game. The 22-year-old forward is making a tremendous impact on defense, too, which helps illustrate the exciting two-way skill set he's consistently built on since entering the league in 2017-18.

What do our experts think of Pippen's claim? NBC Sports Boston's Celtics insiders A. Sherrod Blakely and Chris Forsberg, along with Kyle Draper, discussed this topic on the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast.

"I think he will be. I don't think he's that dude right now. Not right now," Blakely said. "I just think there are too many obstacles in his way that I think will keep him from being that guy right now.

Which obstacles?

"Let's see, some guy named LeBron James and Anthony Davis. There's this guy in MIlwaukee who I hear is pretty good. There's a couple guys in Philadelpia who -- they could make things a little complicated as well," Blakely said. "Tatum is going to be that guy. I'm not seeing he won't be that guy. I think he will. I just don't think he's that guy right now."

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Tatum be a title team's best player? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Forsberg had a different take.

"The last time I saw Jayson Tatum, he was that guy," Forsberg said. "Look, is it fair to think he'll pick up on quite that level, I don't know. But I think a lot of people forgot Kemba Walker was hurt with the way Tatum played over the final two months. I think it is asking a lot of him to get back to that level -- I don't think he's going to average 30 points per game and shoot 50 percent from 3-point land. And yet I do think if the Celtics are going to go anywhere, it does rely on Jayson Tatum being the best player. Kemba has to be very good, but Tatum has to be your best guy, and bring his two-way impact if (the Celtics) are going to reach those lofty goals."

Tatum proved he could be the leading player on a very good team during his rookie season when he nearly led the Celtics to an upset win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. He's a better player now than he was in 2018, but the East as a whole also is a lot stronger today.

It's probably a little too early to definitively say Tatum is already capable of being the best player on a championship contender, but if he plays anywhere close to the level we saw from him in February and early March, it wouldn't be surprising if the young star led Boston on a deep playoff run later this summer.

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast or watch it on YouTube below.

Marcus Smart has extremely high praise for Celtics' Jayson Tatum ahead of NBA restart

Marcus Smart has extremely high praise for Celtics' Jayson Tatum ahead of NBA restart

How high is Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum's ceiling? One of his teammates thinks he has the potential to be one of the all-time greats.

Marcus Smart has watched Tatum grow quite a bit since his rookie season in 2017-18, and he's optimistic that the young star has an incredibly bright future ahead of him in the NBA.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis

Smart told reporters Tuesday in a video conference call that he really knew Tatum was going to be something special during the Celtics' improbable run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2018.

"I would probably say the playoffs in his rookie year. Just the impact he had, just the confidence he played with, and the mindset that he played with, you could definitely see that this guy was going to be special," Smart said. "He was 20 or 21 at the time. It's tremendous to see his progression, aiming for the stars and shooting for the moon, literally, that's him. The things he's capable of on the offensive end. “I think (one thing that's) a little under-talked about is his defensive end. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan. He’s actually sitting down and guarding guys, let alone coming down on the offensive end and doing what he’s doing.”

"I just think that he's on the right track to becoming, like I said, if not the best, one of the best players to ever do this in this game."

It's not every day that a player receives this kind of praise, and while Tatum still has a very, very long way to go before he can be mentioned alongside the game's greatest players, it's easy to see why people are so excited about what lies ahead for him.

Tatum has shown fantastic improvement this season, highlighted by his first All-Star Game appearance and earning Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February. He leads the Celtics in scoring with 23.6 points per game, and he's also on pace to set career highs in rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game and more. 

If the Celtics are going to make a deep run and potentially reach the 2020 NBA Finals -- and some experts think they're capable of winning the East -- Tatum will need to take his game to an even higher level on the league's brightest stage. Based on what we've seen so far from Tatum during the 2019-20 season, there are reasons to be confident he's capable of meeting that challenge.