And a somber salutations from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Of course just a few hours ago, we witnessed the Yellow Jackets end their ACC tournament run, with a last-second loss to Florida State in one of the greatest finishes I've seen all year. Unfortunately for Tech, that was the ninth time this season that a similar finish didn't go their way. Perhaps this time next year, however, close-game victories will not be a problem...
And that segues me perfectly into today's TechTalk blog topic.
So earlier this week, with Derrick Favors coming to Macon along with his South Atlanta compadres for the GHSA Class AAA Final Four (in fact, their semifinal game is going on as I type this), I trekked to South Atlanta High School to talk to the star who many Tech fans are crediting with being a sort of savior who will quickly help them get over this abominable season which was highlighted by a 12-19 overall record and a 3-15 conference showing. Wow, that last sentence was a mouthful. Anyway, the Yellow Jacket commit (Favors can't officially sign until April per NCAA rules) opened up briefly with me in advance of this weekend's action, and so did his coach, Michael Reddick. Already a fan of some of Favors' YouTube highlights, I really became a big fan of Reddick's. We had a nice chat in the coaches' South Atlanta office a few minutes before a practice began, and I thought I'd share some of that conversation with you.
Reddick's voice, as you'll see, is the biggest on this blog entry, but that's mainly because Favors is just such a soft spoken, quiet guy, it's tough to get him to open up and burst a long, flowing quote out to you. Have no fear, however, Tech fans, I'm pretty sure, once he hits The Flats, SIDs Dean Buchan and Mike Stamus are going to figure out a way to get him to open up and serve us reporters the gems of quotes we so long to get. (Speaking of great quotes, I'm personally going to miss Lewis Clinch. Always a great interview, and one of the nicest personalities on the Yellow Jackets team. Too bad there couldn't have been a big group of seniors with the leadership qualities he possessed. Due to a small and young roster, there just wasn't enough of that juice. If there was, we could all be packing our bags next week...)
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Anyway, on to the real reason you're here: Favors. Enjoy Part 1 of this friendly coach/player/journalist convo, and let me know what you think. Part 2 will come next week, most likely I'll post it on Tuesday. I've got to give you something to come back for, right? In the meantime, enjoy this one. Cheers!
When was the first time you saw Derrick’s potential?
I saw him in seventh grade and knew he was a good ballplayer. He had so much potential to get better, and I knew he was going to be a special player. I didn’t know if he had all the parts that it takes, but it seems he’s learned them very quickly.
What were some of the tools he possessed even at that young age to make you believe he could be a special player?
Well I saw a guy who had good size. He had good timing, because he was good at blocking shots. He was also a good rebounder, just when he was in seventh grade. So I saw, even at that time, in seventh grade, that he was playing as good as if not better than some of those ninth graders, and that’s when I said, this kid has a chance.
It was at Crawford Long Middle School, our feeder school right here around the corner, and I was talking to our coaches there and they were saying, ‘Yeah, this seventh grader, here, he’s really going to be good someday. He’s going to be a player, you need to start working with him, Coach.’ That’s what they used to say to me. I make a habit of trying to leave them alone until they get to near high school, so in the summer of his eighth grade year, I started making contact with him other than some of the friendly waves that I would give him at games like I used to.
And how did he respond to that contact?
Well, good. He did a lot of things that summer. He was playing recreation ball that summer as he had been before, and then he started playing the AAU ball, and then he’d work out with me. I’d pick him up, and then he’d come over here and start working out with my kids afterwards. And that’s when I really saw, that for an eighth grader, I saw the mental ability that he had, and the physical side, too. I’d make him do push-ups and stuff like that to make his body stronger, and I would start telling him a certain amount and to make sure he does them every night. But then he’ll ask me, ‘Well how much are the varsity guys doing?’ I told him, and he said that he was going to do that. So I said, OK, look at this guy here. And he started doing them, and I noticed he started getting stronger, and I mean, he was getting strong real quick. I don’t want to get too much on the weights at that young, young age, but from the push-ups and the sit-ups, you saw the results come on quickly.
I know he’s from an area that doesn’t see a whole lot of success stories. What does that mean to other kids at South Atlanta and to people from this neighborhood to see him going off to Georgia Tech, and having a promising future?
Well for me, as a high school coach, that’s my dream; is to have one of my kids go on to college and for me to have a chance to see them play. They don’t have to get me a ticket, I’ll buy a ticket, but for a high school coach, that’s a dream to sit in the stands and enjoy the moment. You see a kid come from being a little boy, and my job is to help him become a young man. And seeing that, that’s a joy come true for me. Georgia Tech, that’s a big-time school, but even if they play at some of the smaller local schools, that’s a big-time joy for me. With Derrick, I can’t be more proud as a proud papa.
During his recruitment, there were coaches coming through here on a routine basis. Did that make things a little crazy for he and other students?
When he first came here, I talked to his mother and let them know that his high school years were going to be as normal as possible. I was going to keep the craziness away from him. But after his 11th grade year, I told him he would have to open up a little bit more and he would see a lot more. Now, I’m sure in the summertime he saw some coaches, but during the school year, a coach would come in always just to say hello, or just to say a little something. But then as it got toward his junior year, all these famous coaches started coming—we weren’t in this building then; at one point we hadn’t had a home game in three years, so we were in a different building—and people would say, ‘Oh I just saw so-and-so!’ or ‘Did I just see?’ And so it was always funny to me.
But one day, at the gym, you had all these coaches come out, and they were the big-name coaches. And it was funny because they were all ribbing each other, saying, ‘Oh, make so-and-so wait’ or ‘(Favors) doesn’t want to go there with you, you’re not good!’ But we had the coach from Florida, the coach from UCLA, Texas, Kentucky was there, Connecticut. It was the top coaches in the nation. This was all in one day. To see that many in one day was like, ‘Wow.’ (Rick) Pitino (from Louisville) was there, Sidney Lowe from North Carolina State. It was just amazing to see how special everybody thought Derrick was. I mean, we already knew, but to see that was just fun.
This is the first time you’ve been in the Final Four, with a chance at winning a championship, what is going on in your head right now?
This is fun, this is my first time in the finals trying to get a championship and I’m pumped. I’m really excited. I’m really looking forward to coming to Macon.
How long have you been thinking about this moment?
My whole life, this is my dream. And now I’ve got a chance to accomplish this goal? Man, it’s a dream come true.
When did you first know that you wanted to play basketball in college and perhaps eventually as a professional?
When I was 10. That’s really when I started playing around here (in South Atlanta) at Empire Park.
How much of an inspiration to you was your late AAU coach, Wallace Prather, Jr.?
A big one. He taught me how to work hard everyday. He kept me in the gym everyday. He kept me motivated to work out everyday. He let me play with 17- and 18-year-olds, like guys on the Celtics before me, when I was just 12 and 13 years old. He just kept me in the gym. If he wanted me there at 8 o’clock in the morning, shooting, I’d do it. I didn’t matter to me.
I’ve seen you play once, when you came to Macon to play Rutland. You’re a soft spoken guy, how do you raise your intensity to play as powerfully as you do in a game?
(Shrugs) I don’t know. It just all kind of comes natural to me when I’m on the court, I guess.