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UCF’s ‘Goliath’ creates imposing presence for teammates, opponents

Sights and sounds of the NCAA practice round in Columbia

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See what it's like on the court of the NCAA basketball championship during the practice rounds.

Zion Williamson is the biggest name this weekend at the NCAA Tournament at Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena.

It’s not close who the biggest player is.

That goes to Central Florida’s 7-foot-6, 300-pound center Tacko Fall, whose full name is Elhadji Tacko Sereigne Diop Fall.

The senior was ducking under doors and towering over his teammates as the Knights took the court for practice Thursday. He even posed for a picture with CBS’ Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson, making the 6-foot-8 Hill look tiny in the photo.

“When I first saw him, I said this dude is HUGE and I’ve got to practice against him every day?” said UCF senior Chad Brown, who enrolled at the college the same time Fall did. ”You don’t see a guy like that every single day.”

The 6-foot-9 Brown said the two have their battles in practice the past four years with each having their moments. He has even blocked Fall’s shot on a few occasions and let him know about it.

Brown said Fall, who is good-natured, takes the trash talking and joking that go along with being someone that tall. His teammates have called him Goliath, Slender Man and The Great Khali, a former WWE wrestler who was 7-foot-1.

Guard Dayon Griffin said they also poked fun of the goggles he used to wear, calling him “Goggles.”

Fall said he has heard all the jokes, including “How’s the weather up there?” and ones he can’t repeat in public. He shrugs them off.

While being 7-foot-6 has its advantage on the court, there are some challenges off of it. Fall puts two mattresses together so he can sleep comfortably. On the road, Fall said showers are a challenge and his feet hang over the bed.

Clothes have to be custom-made and he has to make sure he ducks his head every time he enters a doorway.

“I don’t think anything is made for people my size. You don’t see a lot of us,” Fall said. “It is hard but you get used to it. Showers are small. Not very comfortable. But at the same time once you get used to it, you will be OK.”

Fall moved to United States from Senegal when he was 16 years old and never played basketball until he arrived here. But seven years later, he has blossomed into a productive player for the Knights, who are making their first NCAA appearance since 2005.

Fall is averaging 10.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game while shooting 75 percent from the field. He had a 23-point, 20-rebound performance against SMU earlier this season.

UCF coach Johnny Dawkins calls Fall one of the best human beings you would ever meet and says he can carve out a niche in the NBA.

“He’s a great young man. In basketball, I think he has a bright future,” Dawkins said. “I hear the game has changed and his style of play no longer exists, but when you have a player like Tacko Fall with his personality, with who he is, in any community, he’ll be one of the best people you’ll ever have in the community. You want guys like that around.

“I see him playing on the highest level. I don’t know how and what path he’s going to take, but at 7-6, 300, still has a huge upside in this game because he does. He’s gotten even better this year. Throughout the season, I’ve seen improvement. I see him playing at the next level, and I think that’s something he can accomplish because of his ability on and off the court.”

The State's Andrew Ramspacher previews the stars and storylines for the NCAA Tournament in Columbia.

NCAA Tournament Columbia regional game schedule

The NCAA Tournament in Columbia schedule for Friday’s games (with Sunday’s second round game times to be announced).

South Region

(8) Ole Miss vs. (9) Oklahoma, 12:40 p.m. Friday (truTV)

(1) Virginia vs. (16) Gardner-Webb, approximately 3 p.m. Friday (truTV)

East Region

(1) Duke vs. (16) North Dakota State, 7:10 p.m. Friday (CBS)

(8) VCU vs. (9) UCF, approximately 9:40 p.m. Friday (CBS)

Follow more of our reporting on Columbia is a host city for the first two rounds of March Madness 2019. This will be a place for relevant stories from The State covering host city game info to be tagged and curated.

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