Over the final 42 seconds of the McDonald's All-American Game on April 1, Derrick Favors managed to find himself wide open for a pair of dunks, turning a 110-109 deficit into a 113-110 victory for his East squad.
How exactly does a guy who checks in at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds get free like that?
"Derrick is a very sneaky person," Oklahoma-bound big man Tiny Gallon, who played for the West team, said after the game. "You turn around and he's gone."
Gallon isn't the first person to have trouble guarding Favors. Over the past two years, the South Atlanta power forward has been the most dominant force in high school basketball. A triple-double threat each time he took the floor, Favors averaged 23.7 points, 17.1 rebounds and 9.1 blocks per game as a junior. As a senior this year, he averaged 27.5 points, 13.3 rebounds, five blocks and four steals while leading the Hornets to a Class AAA state title.
When this season ended, Favors copped more hardware than "Slumdog Millionaire" at the Oscars. He won National Player of the Year awards from PARADE, USA Today, Naismith and McDonald's while taking home state honors from Gatorade for the
second consecutive year. Favors then capped his
season by earning MVP trophies at the nation's most prestigious all-star showcases, the McDonald's
All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic. He is also the nation's No. 2 player in the ESPNU 100.
Gallon's description fits off the court, too.
Despite all the accolades, Favors remains the same soft-spoken, laid-back, humble kid he was when he entered South Atlanta four years ago. He doesn't want or need the attention that comes with being a superstar high school hoops player these days. He doesn't roll with an entourage or act like a prima donna.
Favors may not court publicity, but it doesn't bother him, either. Everywhere the Hornets went this season, he was the marquee attraction. Fans filled the gym while coaches and reporters were packed in courtside.
"This year was like traveling with a famous
performer," South Atlanta coach Michael Reddick says. "No matter where we went, everyone knew who he was."
"It makes you want to put on a good show," Favors adds.
Derrick Favors Favorites
TV Show: "Martin"
- Movie: "Love & Basketball"
Actor: Will Smith
- Musical Artist: T.I.
He never disappointed.
Fans wouldn't wait until the final buzzer to start asking for his signature. Any time Favors came out of the game, the South Atlanta bench was besieged with autograph seekers.
"One time, I took him out in the first quarter and 30 people were lined up behind the bench," Reddick says.
The most unusual approach came from a girl so taken with Favors that she threw her cell phone at him while he was running up the court in the middle of a game and asked him to put his number in it.
"I just started laughing and threw it back," Favors says.
If that didn't faze him, nothing would.
Not the constant triple-teams on the court. Not the hype that preceded his January announcement that he would play for Georgia Tech. Not the pressure to go out a winner after a shocking first-round
postseason exit as a junior.
Between the lines, Favors has racked up an unparalleled Greatest Hits list. In a game against
Duncanville (Duncanville, Texas), which entered the season No. 1 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 and had several Division I-bound forwards, Favors tallied 30 points and 21 rebounds while shooting 12-for-12 from the field in a 67-53 win.
Favors also proved his mettle against a pair of
fellow McDonald's All-Americans. In a much-hyped showdown with DeMarcus Cousins of LeFlore (Mobile, Ala.), Favors shined brightest even though South Atlanta came up on the short end of a 78-66 score. He finished with 38 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks. Against Gallon and Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), Favors recorded 25 points,
17 rebounds and four blocks.
When matched up against the best in-state
competition, it was no contest. Favors had 32 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks in a triumph over
Centennial, and 32 points, 16 boards and seven blocks in a win over McEachern.
In the midst of this domination, Favors had a big decision to make. He remained unsigned throughout November's early-signing period but was ready to make a program-changing commitment in January.
Favors ended up choosing Georgia Tech over Georgia and N.C. State. It was a tough decision made even tougher by the knowledge that his signature could help vault one of those schools into prominence while leaving the other two stuck in NIT land. Georgia fired coach Dennis Felton 15 days after the South Atlanta star made his choice, fueling speculation Favors' choice played a role in Felton's dismissal.
If Favors was stressed by his decision, it didn't show on the court. His Duncanville performance came two weeks before his announcement, while the LeFlore and Oak Hill games came the same week he committed to Georgia Tech.
Down the stretch, Favors was focused on one thing: winning a state title.
Last year, South Atlanta was stunned by East Hall, 63-60, in the opening round. It was the school's third straight first-round loss. Favors battled foul trouble the entire game and finished with only 11 points. It was the lone blemish on a near-perfect season.
"A state championship is all we talked about after that loss," Favors says. "Whether it was working out, hitting the weights or staying after school. We worked hard every practice."
Once the postseason arrived, the Hornets weren't messing around. They won their 10 playoff games by an average of 35.3 points. The 81-62
championship game triumph over Westover was just another day at the office for Favors, as he had 38 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks.
Combine the state crown with the MVP honors he grabbed at the McDonald's and Jordan games, and it was a storybook finish to a decorated run at South Atlanta.
"It's the perfect way to end your high school career," Favors says. "Now I'm looking forward to playing the college game. I've just gotta continue getting better and developing."
Favors improving? That's a scary thought for the rest of the ACC. But one thing's for sure: Unlike in the final minute of the McDonald's game, all eyes will be on him.
Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.