Dec. 1, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Derrick Favors still isn’t comfortable shooting the long ball as the former Georgia Tech star hasn’t attempted a trey in 17 games this season with the NBA’s Utah Jazz, but he’s more secure playing and living far away.
While averaging a career-high 15.9 on a career-best 56.3 shooting percentage, Favors has increased his range, albeit not out beyond the 3-point line. That’s not likely to become part of the game for the 6-foot-10, 262-pound center/forward.
The big man has found a comfort zone, however, in Salt Lake City, and that’s significant.
After starring at South Atlanta High, where he was considered by many to be the No. 1 prep player in the nation in 2008-’09, Favors played one season for Tech, and stood out again.
It took him a while to get settled, after he was drafted third overall by the former New Jersey Nets in 2010, and traded to Utah at midseason.
He spent much of his first three offseasons in Atlanta, frequently working out at Tech, where head coach Brian Gregory welcomes all former Tech players whether they played under him or not.
Favors was in Atlanta less last summer, and in Salt Lake City more. He wasn’t just there, either; he was engaged in the community to a much greater degree.
In August, he and his girlfriend, Shivolli Da Silva, hosted a back-to-school party for about 30 children in conjunction with a local Boys & Girls Club.
Favors never was, and still isn’t an extrovert. He meets most of the criteria assigned to quiet types. Yet he’s growing up on and off the court and putting himself out there as one of the NBA’s top young big men.
“My rookie year was more of a learning curve, just stepping back and watching,” he said. “Now, I’m more comfortable out there. When I got traded my rookie year, I was still 19 and I had to move across the country. It was a welcome-to-the-NBA moment for me.
“Usually, I stay in Atlanta but this past offseason I was in Utah a lot more. I just wanted to stay out there, trying to get used to it and working on my game. I did a Back-to-School drive right before the season with kids whose parents are poor. I do a lot of other things out there, and I want to do more.”
Favors was outstanding in ’09-’10 for the Yellow Jackets. He led all ACC freshmen in scoring (12.4 points per game), rebounding (8.4) and blocked shots (2.1) and was fourth overall in the conference in rebounding and second in blocks (74) on the way to being named ACC Rookie of the Year.
He played especially well late, and had 22 points and 11 rebounds in the conference championship game loss to Duke.
Tech beat Oklahoma State, 64-59, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that season before losing, 75-66, to Ohio State to finish 23-13.
Although he wasn’t on The Flats for long, Favors formed lasting relationships.
He still speaks occasionally with former Tech head coach Paul Hewitt, who is at George Mason now, and said, “I talk to Gani, Iman Shumpert in New York or in the offseason. I sometimes talk to Brian Oliver, and Lance Storrs. Gani is overseas.”
Moving from his hometown to Newark, N.J., to Utah in a span of seven or eight months was unsettling to be sure, and Salt Lake City is not much like Atlanta or Newark.
“When I first got there, it was kind of a culture shock,” Favors said. “They do things differently out there. I got used to it, and I stayed out there so I could get familiar with it and get comfortable with it.”
Before the ’13-’14 season, Favors signed a four-year, $49 million contract extension. That includes a salary of $12.65 million this season.
The Jazz (5-12) are one of the NBA’s youngest teams, with an average age of 24.1 years on the roster, and the Utah front office is building around Favors, 23, and Gordon Hayward, 24.
Salt Lake City appears likely to remain home for a while, and while Atlanta is still home to Favors’ parents, an older sister and a younger brother, they visit him in Utah in the summer and around holidays.
Favors made nice work of his only professional visit this season to Atlanta when on Nov. 12 he scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds, and added a season-high three assists with two blocked shots and two steals in a Jazz loss to the Hawks in Philips Arena.
He visited South Atlanta High the night before that game to watch his former team scrimmage, and worked out at Tech’s Zelnak Center with the Jazz on Nov. 13 before the team caught a flight to its next stop.
Even on his less frequent visits last summer, Favors could be found at Zelnak working on his body and his game. He’s more than 40 pounds heavier than when he played for the Jackets, and considerably stronger.
“I think at Georgia Tech, I really didn’t have a reliable jump shot. I just used my athleticism a lot,” he said. “I had a decent post game, but I didn’t really use it; I just tried to jump over everybody. I used my quickness. Now, I have a jump shot, and I have developed my passing skills.”
Tech feels like home when Favors is there, and Gregory is an extended family member of sorts.
“During the offseason, when I stay in Atlanta I go down to Tech to work out,” he explained. “They let me come in the weight room, work out with the team, use the basketball court. When I first met [Gregory], he welcomed me with open arms and said, `Any time you need something, let me know.’ ”