Tourney Talk: CHD sits down with 1983 NCAA champion Dereck Whittenburg

Today marks the 30th anniversary of NC State winning the 1983 NCAA Tournament. The #6-seed Wolfpack’s legendary two-point  upset of Houston in the title game was a result of a buzzer-beating alley-oop from Dereck Whittenburg to Lorenzo Charles. After his playing days were over, Whittenburg had a lengthy coaching career that included stops at Wagner and Fordham. Earlier this week CHD got to sit down with Whittenburg to discuss the tourney of today and his championship memories from three decades ago.

In the 1983 ACC tourney in Atlanta you outscored the great Michael Jordan (15-13) in a seven-point overtime win over defending national champion North Carolina: how amazing was the ACC back in the early 1980s, and how good do you think it is going to be with the addition over the next 2 years of Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville and Notre Dame? Back then almost everyone stayed in school at least three years, so we had great players and rivalries. The Mayhem started back then, but the new teams will make it that much greater.

You started off the 1983 NCAA tourney by scoring 22 points in a two-point, two-overtime win over Pepperdine: how were you able to rally from a six-point deficit with 24 seconds left in regulation? Survive and advance! We were able to persevere and overcome Sidney Lowe fouling out due to a lot of luck and a lot of determination.

Thurl Bailey scored 25 points and made a last-second tip-in to clinch aone point win over UNLV: did you start to get the sense that the “Cardiac Pack” was a team of destiny? After the run in the ACC tourney and a pair of close wins over Pepperdine and UNLV (including the Rebels’ great player Sidney Green), we definitely felt like we had a special team.

You outscored national POY Ralph Sampson (24-23) in a one-point win over #1-seed Virginia (after getting swept by the Cavaliers during the regular season but beating them by three points in the ACC tourney title game): did both teams know exactly what the other one would do by the 4th time you played them in a three-month span? It was more than that: they had beaten us eight straight times until we beat them in the ACC tourney. It was not a revenge game for them: they just thought they would beat us.

You scored 20 points in a seven-point win over Georgia as they missed 19 of their 1st 23 shots: was your team playing spectacular defense, or did the Bulldogs just have a cold shooting night, or both? It was probably a combination of both. There are a lot of nerves when you get to the Final 4.  Everyone was focusing on the two power teams in the game after ours (Houston/Louisville), which made our game a battle of Cinderellas.

In the title game (which is considered one of the greatest upsets in NCAA history) you scored 14 points in a two-point win over #1-seed Houston, but you are most famous for shooting a 35-foot airball that was grabbed by Lorenzo Charles for the title and the winning buzzer-beating dunk.  Was the final play a shot or a pass, and what did it mean to you to win the title? After 30 years it still remains a pass! It was a moment I will never forget.

You were named to the All-Tourney team after finishing as the leading scorer with 120 points in six games: how did that tourney change your life? To play against all those great players and be named West Regional MVP and be the tourney’s leading scorer was phenomenal. I did not think about individual honors back then, but it was a wonderful run by our team.

Two of the coaches you beat in the tourney (Houston’s Guy Lewis and UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian) are among the 12 finalists for the Hall of Fame: do you feel that either or both of them will make it when the results are announced at the Final 4 this weekend? I think that both will make it at some point because they both deserve to make it. I talked to Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon about Lewis: five Final Fours and a big factor in the integration of college basketball in the south.  Tarkanian had a great career as well.

You contacted director Jonathan Hock with your idea to make a film about the 30th anniversary of your title, and Charles died in a bus crash 2 days later: what effect did Charles’ funeral have on the film (if any)? Lorenzo had a huge effect on the film. I had previously seen Jonathan’s documentaries on Marcus Dupree and Chris Herron, so I admired his work even before meeting him. I told him that it was my journey and my team’s story, so it was important to get it right. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed working with him: he is genuine, trustworthy, and helped tell the story the right way.

Your alma mater had a four-point loss to Temple in the first round of this year’s NCAA tourney: do you think they can make it back next year after losing a pair of seniors in Richard Howell and Scott Wood, having two juniors declare for the draft (Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie), and getting the recent news that freshman Rodney Purvis intends to transfer? I think they are in a rebuilding mode.  Whenever you lose four starters from a team it is hard to continue a streak of back-to-back NCAA tourney appearances, especially with the addition of the former Big East teams to the ACC.  TJ Warren may be the only returning starter next season.

Wichita State became the first #9-seed to make the Final 4 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985: what advice would you give them about what it takes for Cinderella to wear the glass slipper? March Mayhem, man: anything can happen! When nobody expects you to be there, the pressure is off and you have nothing to lose. There is so much parity that any of the four remaining teams can win it all.

You will be at the Final 4 with Allstate interacting with fans as part of the sponsor’s “Team Mayhem” program: how will you be celebrating all the mayhem that happens on the court? I will be hanging out in Bracket Town on Saturday at 2PM, signing some autographs, and talking to the fans along with Dick Vitale and Bill Raftery. It is our time of the year! I will be looking for an exciting Final 4.


One Comment

  1. Somehow i missed this interview for a year. Jon Teitel really did his homework on it, as always. Whittenburg was a special player who led a magical postseason run in ’83. That team had no business escaping against Pepperdine in the NCAA first round, and to follow that up with the huge last second upset over UNLV – that’s when folks started talking about “destiny” but even then nobody was betting on the Pack beating teams like UVa (Sampson) and Houston (Phi Slamma Jamma). “After 30 years it still remains a pass!” Classic Whitt.