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An Interview With Dereck Whittenburg

Many many thanks to Dereck Whittenburg for taking some time to answer a few questions. Dereck is currently an analyst for ESPN.

Are you surprised by the amount of progress made by NC State this season? Is it a little bittersweet knowing that Sidney Lowe was the guy who constructed this team but isn't around to enjoy this payoff?

I’m not surprised by their progress. I had their early-season games against Vanderbilt and Texas and saw the progress. This is not a young team but it’s a new team that has potential, experience and talent. It’s unfortunate for Sidney because these are his players he recruited and he didn’t get a chance to coach them. But I think this staff has done an excellent job of giving them a system and getting them going in the right direction.

What are your thoughts on the NC State/Kansas matchup?

I think it’s an even matchup. Kansas’ Thomas Robinson is a great player and the Wolfpack’s C.J. Leslie has had an excellent year. Both are NBA prospects. In my opinion, the one between them that has the best game will be victorious. Both teams are capable of playing a fast-paced, half-court style. It’s going to be a very interesting basketball game.

I've heard that ESPN is filming a special on the 1983 team, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it. Can you give us a few details on it, or just a general update on how that's going?

We are in the early process of developing a film and there isn’t much to report right now.

Would you mind sharing a Jimmy V story that maybe most folks haven't heard before?

I haven’t shared this one with many people. The first time I met Coach Valvano was at a shootout when I was in high school with the Washington DC AAU team playing up north. He comes up to me and teammate Sidney Lowe after the game and said "I would love to coach you two guys. I’m Jim Valvano from Iona College." And then he walks away. I didn’t see or hear of him again until he got the NC State job and he came into the room to speak to the players for the first time. He comes in and I tell my teammates "Hey, I met him last year when I was in high school, he owns a college" and they said "no, it’s Iona College." He said it so fast that first time I didn’t understand him but it made sense because after he left then, I thought to myself, why is this crazy guy telling a high school kid he owns a college.

I caught the end of the '83 title game on television recently, and one of the things that struck me was you guys fouled Houston while the game was tied 52-52. Houston missed the front end, which then set up the final possession for the Pack. Putting a team on the line intentionally while the score is tied is just something we never see anymore. Since there was no shot clock then, Houston could have held for the final shot. Was the idea there to roll the dice on their poor FT shooting, put the game in your own hands at the offensive end, and avoid letting them take the last shot of regulation?

Coach Valvano’s strategy was to purposely foul them to put the pressure on. He thought, put the freshman on the line in front of national TV to make the one and one free throws to close the game out. There was no shot clock so if they had the lead they could just dribble the time off. Not only did that strategy work, it was part of changing college basketball because the next year, they went to the bonus on free throws.

Has the success of guys like Mark Gottfried and Steve Lavin, who have returned to coaching after some time as a TV analyst, encouraged you to get back into coaching at some point? Would you like to get back on the sideline with the right opportunity, or will you stick with television?

I love my current job and the opportunities it gives me so I would be fully content to stay in TV for my career. But like those guys, I’m young enough to still coach, so if there is an opportunity that presents itself I would love to take a shot. There is a little bit of passion and desire to coach at the next level and I haven’t had that opportunity.

One of my readers wonders if you were credited for an assist on that final play against Houston, and if not, if you were bitter about it. (He's just kidding about that last part.)

Of course I was credited with an assist because I wasn’t known as a passer. At least I got one assist in that game, right?