By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s one of the pieces of film you see most, when the NCAA Tournament rolls around; ‘the shot.’
NC State’s Dereck Whittenburg takes what appears to be a last-second shot for the Wolfpack, and the shot falls way short … way short. The (apparent) airball is grabbed by teammate Lorenzo Charles, and dunked, giving NC State the 1983 NCAA Championship win over the Houston Cougars.
But to this day, Whittenburg says it wasn’t an airball.
“It was a pass for me, and it’s going to be a pass for the rest of my life,” Whittenburg told 94WIP’s Brian Haddad.
He also says he has no problem talking about it, with one condition. “As long as they say the pass to the dunk, that sounds even better. That sound is sweet music to my ears, and although it’s 30 years later Brian, what a memory, what a moment, and I hope that [ESPN 30 For 30 Special] Survive And Advance has captured all of the amazing things about that amazing season. “What is amazing about what has transpired over the last 30 years, is that I’m the only player on the team to remain in college athletics. So I’ve had to answer questions and deal with this championship run for every day of my life, 30 years to the day, and I’m constantly talking about whether it was a shot or a pass.”
Though the replay of ‘the shot’ is replayed every year, Whittenburg says the new film has given it new life. “You can not imagine the response we have gotten from the film. It’s been incredible,” he said.
While some players may get tired of being remembered for a moment like ‘the shot,’ Whittenburg has embraced it.
“[I’ve tried to reenact the shot] hundreds of times, are you kidding me? I always tell people Lorenzo wouldn’t have gotten in the way, I was going to make that thing,” Whittenburg said. “Yeah, I’ve done it many times. One of the scenes, and people that know this, there’s a young man who’s Lorenzo’s son Kelly who lives in the New York area, we actually reenacted the play with his son to kind of put it in. It didn’t make the film, but that was a very emotional moment.”
The most emotional moment for Whittenburg as he helped construct the film, was going through footage of then head coach Jim Valvano’s return to NC State, who later died of cancer.
“We didn’t think he was going to come, because of the way he left NC State with all of the controversy,” Whittenburg said. “And the book came out, and he had a lifetime contract ,and NC State fired him and let him go. So we didn’t think he was going to come back. He had went on with this career, gone into TV, he was with ESPN and ABC, so we didn’t think he was going to show up. So as he’s walking down the line and greeting all of us, what we didn’t realize, and I didn’t realize until I was taping this film, and we started to talk about it, is that he was actually dying, that was kind of like his last hurrah. And what character he showed, by not just returning to a school that got rid of him, but he came back and he led the fight song for NC State, what an emotional scene, what a powerful scene, and one of the greatest moments in Jimmy V’s life.”
Whittenburg was a classmate, and is still a friend of a Philadelphia Eagles institution, Mike Quick.
“Mike Quick was a heck of a basketball player, he could have played ACC basketball. But he knew where his butter was breaded, so he stayed in football,” Whittenburg said.