By Dave Krider
Ranked No. 1 in his class nationally as a junior – and now as a senior – Derrick Favors long ago became accustomed to facing every type of trick defense known to a high school basketball coach. “We had to stop working on our man-to-man offense,” South Atlanta (Atlanta, Ga.) coach Michael Reddick related, because nobody played his team man-to-man.
However, at last year’s Bojangles Shootout in Charlotte, N.C., the 6-9 Favors was dumbfounded as he realized Jeannette, Pa., was going to use only a single player to guard him. “I thought it was funny,” he told MaxPreps, with no disrespect to his defender – a senior named Terrelle Pryor. “I took it as a challenge.”
The result was an incredible triple-double with 42 points, 20 rebounds and 12 blocked shots as South Atlanta ran away with a 96-57 victory. Favors drilled 19 of his 24 shots from the field. The amazing feat came at the expense of MaxPreps’ National Offensive Player of the Year in football who now is the starting quarterback at Ohio State as a freshman. The 6-6 Pryor, who scored 25 points (12 on free throws), had many Division I basketball scholarship offers, including one from the University of North Carolina.
Coach Reddick noted that his young superstar also “rose above it all” and had big games against other “name” players such as 6-3 Jrue Holiday of Campbell Hall (North Hollywood, Calif.) and 6-9 Deshawn Painter of Booker T. Washington (Norfolk, Va.).
“I just come out and play hard against a big-name person,” Favors says. “It makes me play even harder, because I know that a lot of folks watch me and if I mess up they have bad things to say about me.”
Favors finished his junior year with a mind-boggling 19 triple doubles. He averaged 23.7 points, 17.1 rebounds and 9.1 blocks while shooting 65 percent from the field for the 27-3 Hornets. He also was the lone junior to make the MaxPreps All-America first team.
Making his phenomenal numbers even more impressive, Favors averaged only about 22 minutes per 32-minute game. Reddick emphasizes that “if we were looking for stats,” Favors easily could have averaged a triple double for the entire year.
As a sophomore he averaged 23.0 points, 16.5 rebounds, 7.0 blocks and 3.0 steals and was a first-team All-State selection.
Despite an abbreviated freshman year, he shared team MVP honors. He broke his right wrist, missing six games. Later he missed three or four more games due to a severe case of flu. Still weakened, he came back and secured a one-point victory by blocking two shots in the last 10 seconds before grabbing the final rebound.
That same year, he missed a pair of losses to Stone Mountain (81-69 and 87-57) but he returned to grab a school-record 32 rebounds as the Hornets avenged those losses, 71-54, to earn a spot in the Class AAA state playoffs. “He’s going to break that record this year,” Reddick predicted. “His rebounding is so special – he just sucks them up. His timing and quickness are special for a big guy.”
Favors concedes that since he was a seventh grader at Crawford Middle School “rebounding is pretty much of a natural ability that I have – just being in the right spot at the right time.” That same special timing has made him a brilliant shot blocker, too (he holds the school record of 17 blocks).
Reddick finally measured Favors’ vertical jump this week, on behalf of MaxPreps. It is an outstanding 39 inches.
Seventh grade was an exciting year for Favors. It marked the first time he dunked. He recalled, “I was in the gym playing around and I just told everybody to move out of my way. I was so happy that I did it five times.”
He even tried football that year, going out for the seventh-eighth grade team. But being one of the youngest players, he saw no action in the first two games and quit to concentrate on basketball. “I always wanted to make it to the NBA,” he said of his childhood dreams.
It took Reddick two seventh grade games to realize, “This kid is going to be a special player. (The second time) he blocked seven shots and got a few rebounds I didn’t think he could get. He was 6-2 and his timing was really good. The biggest difference was his jump from seventh to eighth grade. He went from a good to a great player. As an eighth grader (at 6-foot-5) he was picking things up in two or three tries that it took my seniors to get in eight or nine tries. It (his superior talent) wasn’t fair (to opponents).
“I told him to do 50 pushups a day (when he started eighth grade). He asked me how many the high school kids did and I said from 100-150. ‘Then, that’s what I’ll do,’ he said. He was doing it the correct way and he got a lot stronger. He started on the varsity as a ninth grader and he didn’t back down. He got into the weight room right away.”
Even before Reddick laid eyes on his future superstar, however, another coach, Jammar Stegall of the famed AAU Atlanta Celtics, had been working with him. “The first time I met him, he was real timid, weak and had very little confidence,” Stegall pointed out.
“The fourth or fifth workout, I knew he was going to be real special. It was his interest in the game and will to work. Since he was 12, we have worked out every day except Saturday. Since he was 16, we have concentrated more on grades and cut to two days in the gym. His hard work has paid off.
“All these years we just went over fundamentals. He has a nice shooting touch. He plays defense just as hard as offense. He’s a very humble kid and a coach’s dream. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think he can play without a double team (because that’s all he ever sees.).”
To illustrate Favors’ greatness, Stegall related how his Celtics won the prestigious Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions last summer. “Derrick got three fouls in the first two minutes (against Florida power Team Breakdown) and we were down 20 points at the half. He came out with a real vengeance and had a triple double in the second half and we won by 10 (72-62).
“At end of the game he was MVP. He told me it was more of a team MVP rather than a personal MVP. It really left me in shock that a kid who was that good would say something like that. At this stage I think Derrick is the best player ever to come through our program (which has included the likes of Dwight Howard and Josh Smith).”
This past summer also was noteworthy for a trip Favors took to Africa with an adidas all-star team. “It made me look at the world differently,” he admitted. “They (the people he encountered) pretty much didn’t have anything. I appreciate more what I have.”
With his senior year barely underway, Favors has several things to concentrate on. First of all, he must cut down on his fouls because all three losses last year came when he missed major minutes. The most gut-wrenching of the three caused South Atlanta’s opening-game exit from the state playoffs – for the third straight year – a 63-60 loss to East Hall during which Favors scored only 11 points.
“I’m going to try to stay out of foul trouble,” Favors vows. “I’ve always tried to block every shot. I’m going to try to limit myself this year.”
Of course, there is the pressure of being a target with his No. 1 national ranking. “I just try to stay level-headed with it – just be myself,” he says. “There’s no pressure. It’s something I’ve worked for.”
And, like it or not, he’s again going to face every trick defense – and plain old tricks – in the books. Reddick notes, “Coaches try everything to frustrate him. Players put their hands in his face, step on his feet, pull his shorts, etc. But he’s been a champion in handling it.”
Favors concedes, “It used to bother me, but not anymore. I have to stay patient until stuff opens up.”
Unlike most of the nation’s other premier players, Favors has yet to sign with a college. He will choose from Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Memphis. He admits that seeing all the famous coaches who have come to his school “is exciting, really. I see them on ESPN all the time.”
He has a 3.1 GPA in the classroom, with math being his favorite subject. He also likes to play video games and has been known to cut a fancy dance step or two in the locker room “just for fun, trying to get the team hyped up,” he says.
Meanwhile, the youngster, who won’t turn 18 until after graduation next summer, will continue to pattern himself after NBA stars Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett because of their “passion for the game and how much they want to win.”
A spectacular season surely is in the offing and coach Reddick dreams of some even bigger numbers from his once-in-a-lifetime player. “I want to see him get a quadruple double (add in assists),” Reddick related. “Who knows, one day when they press us, he might get a quintuple double (add assists and steals),” he laughed. “He had nine steals once.”
Despite all of his tremendous honors, Favors claims his greatest thrill is yet to come. “I want to win the state,” he says with strong conviction. Stay tuned.