UCF's Fall using NCAA stage to promote peace

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- It has taken four years for UCF's Tacko Fall to reach the NCAA tournament, but now that he has made it, he said he's also eager to use the stage for bigger purposes.

Fall, a devout Muslim from Senegal, has been outspoken on several issues, including Donald Trump's controversial travel ban. In the wake of last week's terror attacks on Muslims in New Zealand, Fall said he sees his time in the spotlight as a chance to help educate and inform the conversation.

"I love the game of basketball, but it has always been about getting people to understand what we're about," Fall said Thursday. "That means a great deal to me. I was very sad about what happened in New Zealand. I thought about it a lot."

An Australian white supremacist methodically gunned down worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, leaving 50 dead and 34 wounded in Friday's attack.

Fall moved to the U.S. from Senegal when he was in high school and spent several years playing at Christian schools, but he has routinely been outspoken about his faith, and the experience has left him frustrated by others' inability to find common ground.

"We have to just learn to get along," said Fall, who at 7-foot-6 has blossomed into one of college basketball's most recognizable stars. "Everybody -- we're all people. I grew up in Senegal. We have a lot of Muslims, we have a lot of Christians. We get along. That's the culture where I grew up. We just have to learn to love each other."

Last year, Fall was critical of Trump's plan to ban travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, saying equating Muslims to terrorists has long-term effects.

"There are bad people everywhere but that doesn't define Muslims," Fall told Yahoo! last year. "A lot of Muslims are good people. Muslims are good people in general so it hurts me when I hear that Muslims have this stereotype. The crazy thing is, it might not be bad right now but the kids that are growing up listening to how [bad] Muslims are, those kids we should be worried about."

UCF, which is making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 15 years, plays Virginia Commonwealth on Friday.