ORLANDO, Fla. -- Johnny Dawkins spent three years at the University of Central Florida as Tacko Fall’s head coach with Fall’s play being a key to the team’s recent success.
But as good a college player as Fall was, Dawkins sees his growth curve as a basketball player continuing to grow now that he’s on the cusp of being an NBA player.
Dawkins was in attendance at the Orlando Magic’s Amway Center on Friday when Fall (signed by the Celtics to an Exhibit 10 contracts which guarantees he’ll be in training camp but very little beyond that opportunity) and the Boston Celtics defeated the Magic 100-75.
Dawkins spent some time talking with NBC Sports’ Abby Chin about - what else? - Tacko Fall.
“He (Fall) made tremendous progress for us,” Dawkins told Chin. “His best basketball is still ahead of him. Like I’ve always said, when you start that late, his room for growth is astronomical. I’m so excited because I think he has a great opportunity to continue to that.”
Fall came to the United States from Senegal when he was 16 which was around the time the now-23-year-old Fall began playing basketball.
Standing 7-foot-7, his size alone makes him a standout wherever he goes.
But more than his play, Dawkins was impressed even more by Fall the person.
“He’s a humble young man,” Dawkins said before adding, “He’s been in this situation a long time with his size. He’s a people person, he’s very friendly. Everyone that meets him becomes a fan of his, because they realize just how good a person he is and what he brings to the game of basketball but also what he brings off the court as well.”
So it was a surprise to no one to hear the intermittent cheering by the Orlando Magic (and presumably UCF) fan base wanting to see for Fall play.
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the fans longing for Tacko to play intensified with each passing minute.
At one point, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens started walking down the bench which led to fans anticipating he was going to substitute Fall into the game.
Instead, he put Tremont Waters in and soon after Waters we saw Vincent Poirier play which led to a chorus of boos directed at Stevens.
It was clear that there were moments when the cheering from fans to put Fall in the game, made him uncomfortable.
“I think it’s fun that everybody is excited about it, but I’m sure it’s not comfortable for him you know,” Stevens said. “This is why I say all the time how impressed I am with him because he just handles everything with a smile and grace.”
Stevens added, “I actually told him at the six or seven-minute time-out, I said, “Hey, if it gets to five minutes and you haven’t gone in yet, just come and just throw your stuff down at my face and just walk in and then we’ll all play along. We didn’t get to that. That would have been good. He’s really getting better as a basketball player; not as good an actor yet.”
And for Fall to continue to improve as a player, Dawkins has a few things in mind to make that happen.
“Tacko needs to continue doing what he’s doing, and that’s go out there and know who he is,” Dawkins said. “He’s a traditional big man. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s a rim-protector and he’s a high percentage finisher around the basket. If he sticks to those things … he can play for a long time in this league.”
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