CHICAGO — Tacko Fall will be the biggest player at the NBA draft combine.
He is also among the biggest underdogs.
The 7-foot-6 center from UCF already has the first win of his pro career. He is among 11 players who were picked from the G League Elite Camp held earlier this week for a spot in the combine that officially starts Thursday. That bumps the list of combine invites to 77, though not all will be there, with presumed No. 1 pick Zion Williamson already having left Chicago after attending Tuesday’s draft lottery and meeting with teams.
Fall, predictably, was thrilled to get the call.
“It means a lot,” Fall said.
Sure does — it means any realistic hopes he has of being drafted are still alive.
Fall knows the math: 77 players invited to the combine, another 29 draft-eligibles having been to the G League event, plus international players eligible to be selected for only 60 draft spots. As such, plenty of guys will see their hopes of playing in the NBA next season dashed in the next few weeks.
How Fall fares at the combine may go a long way toward deciding if he is one of them.
“You’ve got to earn your spot,” he said. “All the guys that were in the combine, they’re all great players. I saw the list. There’s not one player where I’d be like, ‘Oh, this guy does not deserve to be there.’ So if you want to be there, you’ve got to compete.”
Fall, Florida State‘s Terance Mann, Miami‘s Dewan Hernandez, Syracuse‘s Oshae Brissett, Nevada‘s Cody Martin, Tulsa‘s DaQuan Jeffries, Auburn‘s Jared Harper, Iowa‘s Tyler Cook, Iowa State‘s Marial Shayok, Mississippi State‘s Reggie Perry and Ole Miss‘ Terence Davis were invited Wednesday to stay.
They were chosen through a polling of NBA executives.
“It really humbles you, knowing that all the work you’ve put in is finally paying off,” Brissett said.
Plenty of the players who will partake in the on-court events at the combine will end up in the G League next season. None of them will be getting the league’s new $125,000 contract deal; that’s solely for players who aren’t going to college but aren’t yet draft-eligible because of the one-and-done rule. Many will make more, and many will make less.
And some really accomplished college players didn’t even make what amounts to the first cut to get to the combine: Syracuse’s Tyus Battle, North Carolina‘s Luke Maye (who was slowed by an ankle issue) and Campbell‘s Chris Clemons — the 5-foot-9 guard who averaged 30.1 points per game as a college senior and finished his four years with 3,225 points — won’t be sticking around after participating in the G League event.
“I’d have been very happy to move up there,” Clemons said after the G League camp. “But I made great use of my time here. This is a great event. I got to showcase my game to every team here.”
Hernandez knows he is one of the lucky ones and is finally getting to play with somebody watching again.
The 6-foot-11 forward wasn’t allowed by the NCAA to play last season and would have had to sit out 40 percent of next season because of his dealings with an agent. Miami officials insisted the penalty was wildly unfair, and Hernandez felt the same way. But he worked to make sure his game was on point for the G League event, hoping to impress enough teams that he would merit the bump to the combine.
“It’s go time,” Hernandez said. “It’s time to compete. I haven’t played in a year. NBA scouts want to see how I’ve developed my game, what I’ve worked on in my off time. I’ve gotten stronger. I’ve worked on my jump shot, my ballhandling, my finishing, my defense, my terminology on defense. It’s time to take advantage of this opportunity.”
That’s what, for many, this combine brings — an opportunity.
Fall is a known entity because of his massive frame and for what he did against Williamson in his final game at UCF — the one-point loss the Knights were handed by the Blue Devils in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He largely held his own against the player that will more than likely get taken No. 1 overall.
That doesn’t guarantee anything, but Fall believes the chance — and his future — is in his massive hands.
“Coming into that game, I knew what I could do,” Fall said. “I knew how I could impact the game no matter who I played against. And as long as I stay true to that, I’m going to be fine.”