David Falk was 7-for-12 from the free throw line and led EMU with 19 points in a 76-69 win over Randolph on Saturday, Feb. 15. (Photo by Wayne Gehman)

Madison county ‘farm boy’ a force in the ODAC

If David Falk were 6-foot-9, he might be playing on ESPN twice a week for a major-conference team. He might be on Chad Ford’s list of NBA draft prospects or seeing his name on All-American watch lists.

But he never grew those last 4 inches. At 6-5, the junior center is making waves at the Division III level for Eastern Mennonite University, an ideal school for an undersized center with freakish athleticism.

“He kind of slipped through the cracks because he’s a little undersized and he was a 5 [a center],” EMU coach Kirby Dean said. “He wasn’t a 4 or a 3 — he’s a 5. He’s really the perfect post player for our level because he’s 6-5 and he just happens to be a freak athlete.”

With three regular-season games remaining, Falk leads the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in rebounding with 13.6 per game, 3.6 more than the next-highest rebounder. His 14.3 points per game ranks 11th in the conference and he’s also tops in in blocked shots with three per game.

He fits perfectly in Dean’s get-out-and-go up-tempo brand of basketball. A bigger, lumbering center would drag the Royals down, but not Falk.

“He’s a better player here than he’d be at any Division III in the country because it takes advantage of every single thing that he has and it minimizes any deficiencies that he has,” Dean said.

A native of Madison, Falk drew plenty of D3 interest (and a Division I offer from Navy) after an impressive high school career for the Mountaineers. But he wanted to test himself against better competition and opted for a post-grad year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, a opportunity he got after impressing coaches at a tryout.

To say the least, Dean was disappointed by Falk’s decision.

“He just rips the heart out of my chest,” said Dean, who recruited Falk during basketball season and attended most of his baseball games in the spring.

At Hargrave, Falk said he clashed with the military lifestyle and lost some spark for basketball.

“I hated it the whole time I was there; it wasn’t fun, but I got a lot better,” Falk said. “It kind of took a toll on my body and it was just too much for me. It took the fun out of it.”

Falk played about nine minutes a game while at Hargrave, backing up future Atlantic Coast Conference players like Maryland’s Dez Wells, North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston and a trio of players who went to Virginia Tech.

With the limited minutes and unhappy atmosphere, Falk did not receive the high-major interest he anticipated. His basketball fortunes improved when he reconnected with Dean at a Madison County game over winter break. Dean was on his way back to Harrisonburg after a recruiting trip in Richmond, and because Madison is not that far out of the way, he took a chance and attended the game, thinking Falk might be in attendance.

He was. The rest is history.

“We spent 20 minutes talking that night, and that’s what did it, that’s what sealed it,” Dean said. “I think to that point he really had this dream to play Division I, which is a well-founded dream.

“I just think that that night he had had a dose of Hargrave and it wasn’t what he thought it would be. He wasn’t having fun and he wasn’t playing a lot and the light bulb kind of went on in his head. And here this nut is showing up with just some chance that I might be in the crowd, maybe I should go play for this guy.”

Shortly after Falk committed to EMU, two low-level D1 schools entered the picture: Virginia Military Institute offered him a scholarship and Radford showed interest.

But it was too late. Dean had his center and Falk was going to EMU, where the real work began. Despite growing up on a beef farm, Falk never had the classic “farm boy” look. He arrived at Eastern Mennonite weighing only 180 pounds and lacked the lower-body strength to battle with bigger centers.

So he got in the weight room and bulked up to his current 220 pounds while biding his time behind starter Owen Longacre.

“I split time with Owen and just worked on my game a lot in terms of back-to-the-basket scoring and weight room,” Falk said. “I knew I would get my chance eventually when Owen graduated for me to play big minutes.”

Now, Falk and junior transfer Marcel Crump are combining to form one of the best frontcourts in the ODAC. In their 73-68 win over first-place Randolph-Macon on Tuesday, EMU (12-10 overall, 7-6 in the ODAC) went toe-to-toe with the Yellow Jackets in part because of Falk (21 points, 19 rebounds) and Crump (15 points).

It was Falk’s 14th double-double of the season, an eye-opening performance for those still doubting his stature.

“I bet he had four or five dunks and a bunch of layups,” Dean said. “He was just hanging around the rim. I always encourage him to think like Dennis Rodman to a certain extent. I don’t want him to color his hair or start dating Madonna or anything… but he was just all over the place. He was a man possessed.

“He still has time to be as dominant of a big man as I’ve seen in this league.”

Courtesy Daily News Record, Feb. 14, 2014