Dereck Whittenburg: NCAA Tournament Interview

    
March 17th, 2012
As part of Jon Teitel's NCAA Tournament Interview series, he had a chance to chat with Dereck Whittenburg. Whittenburg was the starting guard on the famed 1983 NC State squad that won the National Title, and he worked his way into March Madness lore by putting up the shot that Lorenzo Charles eventually finished for the winning basket. Besides his playing career, Whittenburg also had a lengthy coaching career that included head-coaching stops at Wagner and Fordham.

 

Dereck's career got started at DeMatha High School under Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten. He also teamed with future NC State teammate (and future NC State coach) Sidney Lowe at DeMatha.

 

Dereck: It was a privilege to go to DeMatha. My parents wanted me to get a great education.


Dereck's family has an impressive basketball heritage. His 2nd cousin is David Thompson, who led NC State to the 1974 title and went on to join the Hall of Fame.  CHN: Who is the best athlete in the family?

 

Dereck: Are you kidding me!? Of course it is David: he is the best by far. I am not going against him!


Once in college, Dereck was part of the magical 1983 "Cardiac Pack” at NC State. CHN: Did you start to get the sense you were a team of destiny?

 

Dereck: We started to feel it even before then. Talk about mayhem: throughout the year we ended up playing the #1 team in the country 6 different times during ACC play!

 

In a one-point win over UNLC, Dereck scored 13 points. He then then outscored Ralph Sampson (the National Player of the Year), 24 to 23 in a tight one-point win over #1 seed Virginia. Prior in the season, Virginia swept NC State in the regular season before the Pack won the ACC title.

 

Dereck: It is just like the old saying goes: it is hard to beat a team 3 times in a season. We were 12-1 and ranked in the top-25 when I got hurt in our 1st game against Virginia, and I was just coming back to rejoin the team around the 2nd time we faced them.


In the title game, considered one of the great upsets in NCAA history, Dereck scored 14 points in a win over #1 seed Houston. He is most remembered not for the 14 points, but for shooting a 35-foot air-ball that was grabbed by Lorenzo Charles as he made the game-winning/buzzer-beating dunk.

 

Dereck: It has changed my life dramatically. It has been 29 years since that play, and I still get asked about it on a daily basis. I have realized over time how much people remember all the upsets, and we were 1 of the 1st big ones.


A few years later, Dereck ended up in the 1986 NCAA tourney as a grad assistant for coach Jim Valvano

 

Dereck: It was unbelievable. Playing for Valvano was great, but by working for him I got to see his energy/work ethic behind the scenes.


Dereck's alma mater NC State is still alive in this year's NCAA Tournament after beating San Diego St on Friday. CHN: How far do you think they can go?

 

Dereck: They can go a long way if they can beat Georgetown. I talked to the team earlier this month because they had to win a couple of games just to get into the NCAA tourney, which is the same thing we had to do 29 years ago. They have a great team and Coach Mark Gottfried has done an outstanding job this year.

 

This month, Dereck is teaming up with Allstate (a new corporate partner of the NCAA), and their "Team Mayhem" (comprised of some past tournament heroes like Miles Simon and Joey Rodriguez) will be attending the Final Four at "Bracket Town".