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adam himmelsbach

During Africa trip, Tacko Fall learned from Joel Embiid and Dikembe Mutombo

NBA great Dikembe Mutombo (center left) and Celtics rookie Tacko Fall were part of an NBA delegation to Senegal. courtesy NBA

Celtics rookie Tacko Fall was part of the NBA delegation that spent four days in Senegal training some of Africa’s top 17-and-under basketball players as part of the Basketball Without Borders program. The 7-foot-7-inch center spent extra time working with the camp’s big men, and was encouraged by the enthusiasm surrounding the game in his hometown of Dakar, particularly as the NBA prepares to help launch the inaugural Basketball Africa League next March.

But during his time as a teacher this week, Fall, who is still pushing toward his dream of reaching the NBA, also took time to be a student.


He had watched plenty of video of Hall of Fame center Dikembe Mutombo, and the two had spoken on the phone before this. But on this trip, they met for the first time, even traveling together to visit children at a local orphanage.

“He’s like an uncle and I’m like his nephew,” Fall said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Dakar. “He gives me advice, and he talked to me a lot about life in the NBA, especially as a player from Africa, like how you need to behave and carry yourself throughout the NBA. And he told me things about diet and workouts.”

Then on Wednesday morning, Fall completed an individual workout with 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid. They both work with skills trainer Drew Hanlen, but this was their first meeting.

“That was really awesome, too,” Fall said. “We worked on pretty much a lot of work on the post, and every now and then he would stop and try to show me some things and try to tell me about the game in the NBA.

“So I thought that was pretty cool, especially coming from him, one of the best, if not the best center in the NBA right now.”


Fall said he has studied the 25-year-old Embiid’s game closely for several years, and that the three-year NBA veteran was gracious with his time Wednesday, patiently answering all of his questions.

“He’s been cool,” Fall said. “He’s easy to get along with. He has a great personality. And just the way he moves is so smooth for someone his size, and I think the biggest part about himself is his confidence. He’s very confident about his game.”

The 7-foot-7-inch Fall stood out among his pupils.courtesy NBA

Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics last week. That is a nonguaranteed one-year deal that will essentially give Fall an invite to training camp and a chance to earn the final roster spot. If he is waived and agrees to join the Celtics’ G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, he would receive a $50,000 bonus.

But he has made it quite clear that his ultimate dream is to play in the NBA next season.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” he said. “I know that I belong and I’ve tried to prove it since college. I really feel like through the help of God I’ve put myself in a good position to keep proving that I can play in the NBA and have a really good career.”

Fall was impressed by the enthusiasm for basketball in his homeland.courtesy NBA

If Fall plays in the NBA next season, it would only add to his growing popularity in the basketball world. But even if he does not, he still will be viewed as a legend in Senegal.

This is his first visit home in seven years. He has been enjoying his mother’s cooking (okra and rice, and her special bean dish are two of his favorites) as well as spending time with grandparents and other family members.


“For me it’s about going around the neighborhoods, seeing where I came from, and just kind of reflecting on how far I came,” Fall said. “I think that will honestly give me more encouragement to keep pushing and keep inspiring people from Senegal and Africa and be the best I possibly can and continue to strive so I can have a long career in the NBA.”

Although the Basketball Without Borders event ended Wednesday, Fall planned to spend an extra nine days in his home city, visiting with family and marveling at how much Dakar has changed since he was last there. Then he will return to Boston to continue training for what he hopes will become his rookie season with the Celtics.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.