On the tails of a historic season, the UCF men’s basketball program hopes to witness another bit of history and see just its second alum go straight from UCF to the NBA during Thursday night’s draft.
A handful of Knights have worked out for pro teams in recent weeks with dreams of hearing their name called, much like UCF guard Jermaine Taylor did in 2009. The two players with the greatest likelihood of experiencing that reality Thursday are center Tacko Fall and guard Aubrey Dawkins.
Fall’s stock rocketed up following last month’s NBA combine as he impressed scouts with his overwhelming length and better-than-expected mobility. Fall knows there are questions about where a 7-foot-7 man fits in today’s smaller, faster game, but he has been doing his best to provide answers.
“I can run the floor pretty well for someone my size. I can move laterally a lot better. I have the length, so it's just a matter of going out there and showing it,” Fall said following his workout with the Indiana Pacers on June 5.
There is no doubt in the mind of UCF coach Johnny Dawkins that Fall belongs in the NBA.
“He’s a game-changer,” Dawkins said Tuesday. “He’s not a game-changer in the likes of [Toronto Raptors forward and 2019 NBA Finals MVP] Kawhi Leonard or someone like that … but when he is in there, he can change the game. He can change the flow of a game. He can change the momentum of a game. How do I know? Because I coached him for three years and watched him do it.”
NBADraft.net has Fall being selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 54th overall pick in its most recent mock draft, which was updated Tuesday. ESPN and CBS Sports have Fall ranked among their top-75 draft prospects.
Aubrey Dawkins was viewed as a possible second-round pick after his 32-point outburst versus top-seeded Duke in the NCAA Tournament. But his stock has lost a lot of helium during the past couple of months and he is currently 99th in both ESPN’s and CBS Sports’ draft rankings.
To the elder Dawkins, there’s only one reason why his son is being overlooked: He is 24 years old.
“They can come up with all kinds of rational and reasons, but his age is the one thing,” said Johnny Dawkins, who plans to watch the draft with Aubrey at the family’s Orlando-area home. “I think everyone likes the 18-to-20-year-olds and they like potential. That's just the way the game has gone; everyone drafts on potential and so guys that are more proven and solid, players that have that kind of track record are not as valued as much, unfortunately.”
Aubrey knows his age is being held against him and isn’t afraid to show his bitterness about the situation. Following a workout with the Orlando Magic last week, he said: “It sucks that that’s the name of the game now, but I put my time in and I pay my dues.
“Show me an 18-year-old that’s done the things I’ve done, then, OK. But right now, I don’t really care. it is what it is.”
Three other Knights have been showcasing themselves in front of NBA scouts this spring: point guard B.J. Taylor, forward Chad Brown and guard Dayon Griffin. Although a team probably won’t spend a draft pick on them, Johnny Dawkins said any franchise should be happy to bring Taylor’s toughness and leadership, Brown’s unbridled energy or Griffin’s long-range shooting ability into their locker room.
No matter what happens Thursday night, Dawkins is confident that all of these now-former Knights will see their playing days extend beyond UCF.
“I think all those guys will be professional players. Now we’ve just got to find out where they’re going to land, whether it’s in the NBA, the G League, if it’s over in Europe,” he said. “But all of them are all professional players. I don’t see them not having professional careers.”