ESPN's Phillip Lee recently caught up with former N.C. State basketball player Dereck Whittenburg. Whittenburg and the Wolfpack defeated Houston in the 1983 NCAA championship game.
Phillip Lee: What have you been up to?
Dereck Whittenburg: I'm the head coach at Wagner College. This was my second season. We had an outstanding year. We were picked 10th and we came in fifth. We're in the Northeastern Conference. We were 16-13 overall and 11-9 in the league. We ended up 8th in the country in scoring. This was our first winning season in seven years.
PL: Is it weird being called coach?
DW: It's kinda exciting. After 14 years as being an assistant and finally to be a head coach, it's a lot of fun.
PL: Where were you an assistant before?
DW: I was an assistant at Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina State, Long Beach State and George Mason.
PL: So you paid your dues?
DW: I would think so.
PL: Let's talk about the 1983 NCAA championship game. What were your feelings going into the contest?
DW: I was feeling pretty good. We always talked about winning the national championship and being in the final game and low and behold there we were. We felt pretty good because we played in the best league in the country, the ACC. There were four or five teams ranked in the top 25 so we felt we played against good competition. We weren't in awe of anybody. We felt really strong about our chances.
PL: Even with all the hype about Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma, you guys weren't intimidated?
DW: Not at all. When you've played against Michael Jordan and Ralph Sampson, why should there be (intimidation)? There was tremendous talent in the ACC. It wasn't like we hadn't seen great players before. We knew about (the Houston Cougars) and respected them, but we weren't in awe of anybody.
PL: I guess you didn't buy into the media hype that Houston was unbeatable?
DW: We believed in ourselves. I think that was the key. We really felt that we had arrived. We had to beat a lot of great teams to get to that point. We felt very good about ourselves.
PL: At what point in the tournament did you believe that you really had a chance to win it all?
DW: Once we got to the Final Four, we knew we could win it. We really thought we had a chance.
PL: You beat Virginia to get into the Final Four, right?
DW: We had just played Virginia in the ACC championship game and then to play them again and beat them again, our confidence was real high. And we were winning the close games.
PL: What's your recollection of the final minute of the championship game?
DW: We designed a play, but they came at us in a 1-3-1 trap so we threw the ball around a little bit. Then time started running out and Sidney (Lowe) tried to hit Thurl (Bailey) in the corner for a shot, but he saw (Hakeem) Olajuwon staring him in the face so I was the next option.
PL: When you took the shot did you know that it was short?
DW: No, I really didn't know. With a tie score or with the clock running down, you've got to get a shot attempt off and that's all I was thinking about.
PL: What are you thinking when you see Lorenzo Charles grab the ball and slam it in?
DW: It was pandemonium. We did it. It was an unbelievable feeling. It's hard to describe.
PL: Did Lorenzo steal your thunder?
DW: No. We were just happy to win. That's the kind of team we were. We had really good talent. We didn't have the best talent of all of the teams in the tournament, but we had great chemistry. We were a great basketball team. It's hard to measure the chemistry of one's team. We had great chemistry and great togetherness.
PL: How has the championship game impacted your philosophy in life and basketball?
DW: It's all about believing and dreaming. I've always carried that into what I've wanted to accomplish. I carry that into my program at Wagner. We dream and believe that one day we'll be a Sweet 16 team or go into the Final Four. It's all possible. If you set out to talk about a dream and set your goals high, you can achieve it. I pass it on to my players and staff and friends and family. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it.