The evolution of Derrick Favors
Highly-touted Atlanta HS star Derrick Favors has committed to Georgia Tech
Favors was mentored by the late Wallace Prather Jr., his AAU coach
Favors was recuited by Florida, UCLA, UConn, but chose Georgia Tech
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Last October the South Atlanta Hornets were busy training for their preseason mile run when, near the end of the endurance workout on the school's recently refurbished track, Derrick Favors shifted gears. Aware that Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt was standing nearby with Hornets head coach Michael Reddick, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound power forward pushed to impress Hewitt by running a full-speed, 400-meter lap. "His time was so incredibly low that coach Hewitt asked if our stopwatch was working," said Reddick, a former NBA Draft pick out of Stetson University, who could not recall the exact time. "He asked, 'You sure he ran that? Our guys run something slower'."
Last Wednesday, Favors ended the race for his services when he slipped on a navy blue Georgia Tech cap at the ESPNZone in Atlanta, signaling his commitment to a program that clearly needs his help. Winless since his commitment, Tech, which is 0-4 in the ACC and 9-8 overall, can only imagine how Favors' numbers 20 points and 17 rebounds per game will translate in the ACC next season. Favors, explaining his decision to go to Tech, said, "I know the pieces are there to make something special."
Favors was not always so imposing. Growing up in the Cleveland Avenue area of Atlanta, the same section that produced Washington Wizards guard Javaris Crittenton and Cleveland Cavaliers forward J.J. Hickson, the then-slim Favors was given the nickname "Stix" in elementary school. The son of a single mother, Deandrea, Favors's basketball progression took a great leap forward one Saturday morning in 2004. Wallace Prather Jr., the Adams Park supervisor and a grassroots basketball pioneer for the city who founded the Atlanta Celtics AAU program in 1990, had heard from neighborhood friends that there was an athletic seventh-grader dominating his age group's competition. Looking to gauge the youth's interest, Prather Jr. arrived at Favor's two-story house. Speaking in his southern drawl and chewing on his signature stick, Prather, who was the AAU coach for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and Atlanta Hawks wing Josh Smith, asked Derrick, whose mother was not home, if he wanted to practice with his players. "I told him I had to get better," said Favors. "He said he'd help me."
Around the same time, Reddick began picking Favors up at Crawford Long Middle School and bringing him over to high school drill sessions to put him through drop-step and reverse-pivot paces as an eighth grader. Within the year, Favors began to show improvement. Already a consistent scorer, he now began to block shots and expanded his game defensively. "That was my job to expose him to as much as possible and let him see what sticks," said Reddick, who in 1984 had been a sixth-round pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. "He got things quicker than players who were with me three or four years." Later that year, observing a Celtics' practice at Adams Park, Hewitt first saw the recruit on which he is basing his reconstruction project.
By the next summer, Prather Jr. was having chest pains and died of a heart attack. Eleven months after he passed, in the first memorial tourney in Prather's honor, Favors earned 15-and-under MVP honors as the Celtics won that age group's title. "Wallace's eyes and gut were right about Derrick," said Jammar Stegall, who has coached Favors since Prather's death. "Derrick's right up there with Dwight and Josh."
Favors' output has only increased as he's matured physically. Last May, during the title game of the Bob Gibbons Invitational in North Carolina, the workmanlike Favors picked up three early fouls and saw limited action as his team fell behind by 20 points at the half. But in the second frame, playing against Florida signee Kenny Boynton and top junior Brandon Knight, he charged back to record a triple-double. "He should have been playing for the Boston Celtics," said talent scout Tom Konchalski. "His game and mature body are NBA ready."
During the 2008 high school season, the Hornets, who were displaced and bussed to a school across the city as their building was renovated, watched Favors post 42 points and 20 rebounds against Jeannette (Pa.) and its two-sport wunderkind Terrelle Pryor (now the quarterback at Ohio State). At UCLA's Pauley Pavilion two weeks later, he went for 34 points and 30 rebounds against top 2008 recruit Jrue Holiday and nationally-ranked Campbell Hall (North Hollywood, Calif.). "He may talk softly but the fire is there," Reddick said. "Trust me."
As Favors's coach, Reddick received plenty of visits from college coaches. On just one day, at his makeshift office above the court at the temporary school, Reddick welcomed Florida coach Billy Donovan, UCLA's Ben Howland, UConn's Jim Calhoun, N.C. State's Sidney Lowe, Georgia's Dennis Felton and Hewitt, in a scene similar to the pursuit of Anfernee Hardaway in Blue Chips. Having arrived first, Donovan enjoyed needling his counterparts by monopolizing Reddick's time and waving to those outside the office, but it was Hewitt, who won out in the end. "He was first class all the way," Reddick said.
Hewitt also knew how to feed the hungry Favors. During his official visit in September, after the star and his mother, Deandrea, saw a step show and football game, Hewitt brought them to a team cookout at his house where they had what the mother, an office assistant who used to work nights and weekends preparing airline food, calls "the biggest steaks we'd ever seen".
On Saturday night, Favors was in the lobby of the National Basketball Hall of Fame watching fellow top recruits show off their dunking and three-point skills during the exhibition session of the four-day HoopHall Classic. Behind the glass door was Hewitt, who had flown in after a Tech loss to N.C. State, one in which his team had blown a 10-point lead with four minutes left. Looking worn from the day's loss and travel, Hewitt need only look at Favors to know his program will soon be up and running again.