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Derrick Favors stretched out on a bleacher at Zions Bank Basketball Center wearing shorts, flip-flops and a Utah Jazz T-shirt.
He looked comfortable, at peace with himself and his surroundings. No doubt, the lazy summer afternoon had something to do with it. The middle of July two months after the end of the regular season and two months before the start of training camp is about as calm as it gets for an NBA player.
But there's more to it than that. For the first time in his professional basketball career, the Jazz's 6-foot-11 center feels at home. At home with the Jazz and Salt Lake City. Secure in his place with the organization and with his life off the court.
Favors is barely two months past his 23rd birthday but is already settling down. He now makes his full-time home in Utah. He lights up when talking about his longtime girlfriend, Shivolli Da Silva, and his two dogs a pit bull named Gotti and a Yorkshire named Roxy.
Favors is also the owner of a four-year, $49 million contract extension from the Jazz that kicks in during the upcoming season. The team has tabbed Favors and Gordon Hayward who landed his own big contract earlier this summer as the franchise's cornerstones, the two guys expected to lead a young squad back into NBA playoff contention.
What will Favors do with all that money? Well, it probably won't be spent in the fast lane. The Jazz big man is an avowed homebody, who's happiest hanging out, spending time with friends and family, and playing with his dogs.
"I'm just not a huge party guy," Favors says. "I never have been. I have my house. I have my girl. I love playing for the Jazz, and I love Utah."
For Derrick Favors, life has been all about family and basketball for as long as he can remember. He's never deviated nor strayed from that formula.
Why? It's all about Mom.
A tough place, a strict upbringing • As neighborhoods go, south Atlanta will never be confused with the tony Buckhead area in the city's north end. It's a tough place. Originally known as Brownsville, it's where Derrick Favors grew up. Around Cleveland Street, to be exact.
His mother, Deandra Favors, knew it was the kind of place where a young boy could go astray if he fell in with the wrong crowd, so her son had strict rules growing up. Early on, young Derrick couldn't wander too far past the driveway. During his school years, his behavior was expected to be impeccable while his mother was at work. If Deandra received a less-than-favorable report upon arriving home usually from an older sister he faced repercussions. Deandra is a religious woman, but was never afraid to wield a belt.
That didn't happen often, though.
"I didn't have to worry too much," she said. "Derrick loved basketball. He loved the game and loved the gym. He took his basketball everywhere. That was his passion."
And he developed into a good player quickly.
Jammar Stegall met 12-year-old Derrick Favors when he was working at the Southeast Recreation Center. He coached the Atlanta Celtics, one of the nation's most prominent AAU programs. He became Favors' mentor.
The day the two first crossed paths, Stegall only knew Favors as Stix. That was the nickname hung on Derrick in the neighborhood, a product of his height and skinny frame.
"You could tell he was special," Stegall said. "He was a quiet kid, and he was really humble and laid back. He caught on so fast to everything I tried to teach him. He was so talented. He could do everything on the court."
Father figure • In many ways, Stegall came along at exactly the right time for the Favors family. Derrick needed a father figure he never knew who his dad was until a few years ago and Stegall turned out to be a godsend who had deep basketball ties around Atlanta, and nationally.
Stegall knew Favors' mother wasn't keen on Derrick hanging out in the neighborhood, so he picked up the teen each day and took him to the rec center. The two became inseparable. To this day, Favors refers to Stegall as his uncle. The two still spend a chunk of time each season together in Salt Lake City.
"Derrick is like a God in this community," Stegall said of Favors' stature in Atlanta. "He's one of those guys who never forgot where he came from. He has the same personality that he had when he was younger. He had the same routine. He went to the rec center, he went to school, he went home. He never gravitated towards negativity."
Favors would eventually grow into a basketball force. He would lead South Atlanta High School to a Georgia state championship, became a McDonald's All-American and the consensus top high school player in the country. As news of his exploits spread, Favors received offers from rival AAU teams and bigger high schools. But loyalty was big for Favors. He always stuck with Stegall's AAU team and South Atlanta High. And he decided to stay home again for college, signing with the hometown Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Even then, Derrick Favors knew who he was. Success didn't change him.
"He was very respectful," said Paul Hewitt, who recruited and coached Favors at Georgia Tech and is now the head coach at George Mason University. "He was one of our most high-profile recruits, and he could have been a pain in the a. But that wasn't him. I remember one spring break, he didn't even go home. He just stayed on campus and hung out with the international kids. He never wanted to be in the spotlight."
Unwelcome surprise, a shaky NBA start • Favors' basketball talent was so immense that he played just one season at Georgia Tech. He led the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA Tournament and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's freshman of the year. The NBA beckoned, and he answered the call.
But at the height of his early success Favors would be picked No. 3 overall in the 2010 NBA draft by the then-New Jersey Nets he got a stunning and unsettling phone call. For the first time, Favors' father had decided to try to insert himself into his son's life.
"I honestly didn't know how to react," Favors said.
The father and son had never met and never spoken. They never did speak Favors rejected the overture and, if he has his way, they never will.
Ask Favors about his father today, and he steers the conversation to his family and friends, the people who made an impact on his life. His dad doesn't qualify. Asked if he even knows his father's name, the answer is a terse "no."
But that wasn't the only unsettling aspect of Favors' life. His first half-season in the NBA was bewildering and upsetting.
Though he started 23 games for the Nets, the 19-year-old rookie watched most of the available minutes go to veteran Kris Humphries. For the first time in his life, Derrick Favors was not the best player on the floor. He wasn't even in the top five on his own team.
"It was hard," Favors said. "It was hard not knowing how much I was going to play every night. But it was something that I had to go through."
A new beginning • Favors learned the NBA's hardest lesson Feb. 23, 2011 just halfway through his rookie season. On that day, he was traded to the Utah Jazz along with point guard Devin Harris, two No. 1 draft picks and cash for Jazz point guard Deron Williams.
It was one of the biggest trades maybe the biggest trade in Jazz history, and Favors was the centerpiece of the deal for Utah. But it also meant more bench time for the rookie. Established Jazz veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap manned the team's center and power forward spots.
Favors would continue to sit for chunks of the next two seasons. But he watched and learned from Millsap and Jefferson, not only about pick-and-rolls and post defense, but also how to be a pro. And when he did play, he tantalized Jazz executives and fans with his raw talent.
Now, the decks have been cleared. Jefferson and Millsap were allowed to walk after the 2012-13 season as free agents, a move that allowed the Jazz to sign Favors to that lucrative contract extension and catapulted him into the starting lineup. Instead of playing in fits and spurts, Favors was averaging 30-plus minutes every night. He averaged 13 points and nearly nine rebounds per game last season despite playing with a series of nagging injuries.
"This is really the second stage for Derrick," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. "We've had patience with him and he's had a natural progression. With Derrick, nobody can accuse the Jazz of skipping steps. We know that we're making a significant investment in him by giving him the contract extension. Derrick has taken ownership of his development."
New season, new opportunity • With the youngest roster in the NBA, the Jazz stumbled to a 25-57 finish last season and missed the playoffs. Coach Ty Corbin was let go at season's end.
Enter Quin Snyder, the new Jazz coach with the up-tempo offense and about a million ideas for helping Favors take the next step to potential NBA stardom.
"Coaching Derrick is about trust," Snyder said. "Derrick will be best when he is a part of something bigger than himself. That's what he embraced taking the challenge of being an anchor for this team."
Favors knows that it's time to turn potential into production. But it's easy to forget that he's still young. There are incoming rookies former Pleasant Grove star C.J. Wilcox for one who are older than Favors.
But heading into his fifth season, the Jazz big man knows that he needs to expand his offensive game and continue to evolve into a defensive and rebounding force at the other end of the floor.
To that end, Favors' off-season has been dedicated to expanding the range on his jumper, adding moves with his back to the basket and losing weight. Favors is expected to play center in Snyder's new offense. Largely gone are the days of him occupying the low post. Much of his time will be spent playing pick-and-roll basketball with the guards.
"When I was younger, I would try to dunk on everyone," Favors said. "But I know that's not possible all the time."
Favors is also morphing into a team leader. He showed up at Utah's summer league scrimmage this year, sat in on film sessions with that team and has been a regular at the practice facility.
He's showed an impressive amount of commitment this summer," Lindsey said.
It helps that Favors likes his job, likes where he lives and, most important, knows who he is.
"It's quiet here," he said. "I can concentrate on the game. Growing up, my life was always all about family. I had a great support system, my mom and my grandma always made sure that I never got big-headed. My friends all kept me grounded and that's helped a lot."
So the grounded Favors is ready to soar.
About Derrick Favors
• Is originally from Atlanta
• Was rated the top high school player in the country in 2010
• Played one season at Georgia Tech
• Was traded by the Nets to the Jazz for Deron Williams in 2011
• Named to the NBA All-Rookie second team in 2011-12
• Averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds per game last season for the Jazz
• Lives in Salt Lake City with his girlfriend and two dogs