ORLANDO, Fla. — Tiernan McEnery’s family traveled from Dublin, Ireland, to Central Florida on a two-week vacation to celebrate his 13th birthday.
They bought tickets to the Orlando Magic’s preseason 100-75 loss against the Boston Celtics on Friday night at Amway Center. In a sort of boy-meets-the-NBA-world moment, Tiernan saw firsthand just how tall professional players are, especially the Celtics’ 7-foot-6 rookie, Tacko Fall.
“It just feels weird, because I’m, like, small, and he’s huge,” Tiernan said.
And oh so popular.
In his first game in Central Florida since completing his eligibility at UCF, the native of Senegal was a fan favorite.
For most of the night, though, the rookie center sat and watched. Late in the third quarter of the Celtics’ 100-75 victory, the fans could take it no more:
“We want Tacko!”
The chant was repeated at various points early in the fourth quarter, and when the Celtics inserted guard Tremont Waters and forward Vincent Poirier into the game instead of Fall, fans booed.
“Tacko! Tacko! Tacko!” fans yelled out in unison.
Fans cheered when Fall, stripping off his gray warm-ups and revealing his No. 99 Celtics jersey over a white undershirt, finally entered the game with about 5 1/2 minutes left.
He stayed on the court for the remainder of the game, finishing with two rebounds and one assist. He missed his only field-goal attempt and did not have a blocked shot.
“This is my second home,” Fall said. “I played at UCF all these years. All of those people have cheered me on all throughout my college years. It was great to come (back).”
Anytime he touched the basketball, Fall drew a positive reaction from the crowd.
“It’s an outstanding story of someone who is following a dream that he had,” said David Miville, who is originally from Massachusetts but moved to Central Florida five years ago. “It just shows that you can achieve any dream you want when you just put some focus and effort into it and set goals for yourself.”
Fall helped UCF reach the NIT semifinals in 2017 and capture its first victory ever in the NCAA Tournament last spring, a 73-58 conquest of VCU. He went undrafted before signing an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics in June.
An Exhibit 10 contract is a non-guaranteed contract for the NBA’s minimum salary that could include bonuses if a player spends a certain amount of time with a team’s G League affiliate.
Orlando Valcarcel of Orlando understands the curiosity surrounding Fall while also acknowledging the uphill climb he faces.
“You can be tall, but you might not have the skill with the environment in the NBA,” Valcarcel said. “Players like (Golden State Warriors forward) Draymond Green, they might not be that tall, but they perform like a big guy. He has to show his height and perform as well to be powerful.”
Miville, who said he used to work at the arena, has seen Fall play before.
Just not at this level and with the action moving at hyper-speed compared to the college game.
“I’m excited to see him,” Miville said. “That’s one of the reason why we came. I’d like to see what he could do.”
After Friday night, the Celtics won’t return to Orlando until Jan. 24. It is anyone’s guess where Fall will be by then.
Wherever he may be, he won’t have trouble making fans.
“The name ‘Tacko,’ that’s really fun, and his height makes him (appealing) as well,” Valcarcel said. “People are waiting. People are waiting to see him and see him doing right.”
Tribune News Service