Home » Columns » Currently Reading:

Interview with Dereck Whittenburg

June 20, 2003 Columns No Comments

Will Rose Hill Bloom Again Under Whittenburg?

by Adam Shandler

He’s done it a couple of times now. Perform the impossible, that is.

In 1983, as a member of Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack, he launched a desperation 40-footer just before the buzzer that was grabbed in mid-air by teammate Lorenzo Charles and slammed through the hoop. The bucket gave NC State an unlikely championship over the much haughtier Houston and its Phi Slamma Jamma.

Photo courtesy Fordham University
Dereck Whittenburg

In 1999, he took over an ailing Wagner program; one that was lodged in the throat of mediocrity and suffering from academic asphyxiation. In four seasons, he gave the Seahawks the Heimlich, turning the program around on several fronts and recording two postseason appearances, including the school’s first trip to the NCAA dance in 2003.

Now Dereck Whittenburg faces, quite arguably, his greatest challenge. He assumes control of a Fordham Rams program that went a combined 10-46 over the last two seasons under former Spurs coach Bob Hill. Despite the bump up in conference competition, recruiting challenges and administrative pressure, Whittenburg is undaunted.

I recently spoke with Coach Whittenburg to see if he had another miracle left in him.

Adam Shandler: Congratulations on your appointment as court coach for the U.S. Junior Nationals team. What exactly does one do as a court coach?

Dereck Whittenburg: Well, I was only doing it for that one week. Basically I was working with (Nationals and Oregon head coach) Ernie Kent, doing whatever he needed me to do. We ran drills with the guys and then coached them during the games. We were also part of the evaluation process and helped with the selection of the final team. It was fun. I had known most of those kids before the trials, so it was good working with them again. And it was the first time I’d been involved in USA basketball since I was a player some 27 years ago.

AS: You achieved a great deal of success at Wagner in four years. Did it happen as quickly as you thought it would?

DW: Well, we all want to make the NCAA tournament our first year, but when I got there, the plan was just to improve the program all-around. We had to find good kids who would play hard and go to school. And we did that. Every kid graduated, we had a team grade-point average of 2.6, there were no incidents, and we did a lot of good work in the community that a lot of people didn’t know about. To tell you the truth, going to the championships was a bonus for us.

AS: So do you feel you left Wagner is pretty good shape?

DW: Let’s put it this way, it’s in a lot better shape then when I first got there. I think the program is definitely in a position to continue to be successful. And with (new head coach/former Marquette assistant) Mike Deane there . . . well, hey, winning speaks for itself.

AS: You’re going to be taking over another struggling New York program in Fordham this year. Do you see this situation as being similar to the Wagner job?

DW: I see the two as being very similar. It’s going to be very tough at Fordham, very challenging, and there’s a lot to be done here. But before we even start thinking about wins, we have to get command of this program, find out what needs to be done, make sure the players are going to be working hard in practice and working hard in school. Once we have that down the wins will come in time.

AS: Fordham is the only New York-area school in the A-10. That has to be a positive in recruiting. But at the same time you’re still competing with local schools from rival conferences — like St. John’s, Seton Hall and Rutgers. What’s your take on recruiting players for Fordham?

DW: There are a lot of positives about selling Fordham. It’s a great New York City school, it has an excellent academic reputation, we have a very supportive alumni base, and I think being in the A-10 are all benefits of playing here. We’re a hidden gem, but the people here are enthusiastic about what they do and are starving for a successful program.

AS: You’re moving quickly with building your basketball staff. I see you hired Ross Burns and Travis Lyons as assistants and the athletic department hired Alex Groothuis as director of basketball operations just last week. I guess your relationship with the administration is working out well.

DW: People here have been open and receptive. I’m a guy who wanted to be at Fordham. When the school and I started talking about this job I didn’t come here saying I was above anyone. I liked [Fordham’s] reputation as a school and they liked me as a coach. I was already coaching a New York school and I wanted to stay here, so it’s been a nice, easy transition.

AS: Have you met with any of your players yet?

DW: Quite a few of them, yes.

AS: Are they excited that you’re on board as the new head coach?

DW: Most of the players are excited I’m here. Most of the guys know my background as a player and what I expect as a coach, so I think it’s a transition that’s going to work.

AS: So can we expect to see the Whittenburg-to-Lorenzo Charles pass in the Fordham playbook this season?

DW: (Laughs) Of course! How can it not be?


Comment on this Article:

Subscribe to Hoopville

Enter your email address to subscribe to Hoopville


Hoopville Archives

College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

Here are links to the shows:

March 13, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 20, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 27, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

April 3, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

Coaching Changes

The coaching carousel is moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Everybody Needs a Head Coach

Former college basketball coach Mike Jarvis has a new book out, Everybody Needs a Head Coach.

"As you read this book, I hope that Coach Jarvis' experiences inspire you to find your purpose in life."
-Patrick Ewing, NBA Hall of Fame center

"Mike Jarvis' is one of my special friends. I am so pleased that he has taken the time to write this fabulous book."
-Mike Krzyzewski, Five-time NCAA championship head coach, Duke Blue Devils

"In reading this book, I can see that Mike hasn't lost his edge or his purpose. Readers should take a look at what he has to say."
-Jim Calhoun, Three-time NCAA champion, UConn Men's basketball

Review on Hoopville coming soon!

Hoopville Podcasts

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – March 17, 2018

March 17, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, there is one main story to focus on: history being made in Charlotte and its aftermath. But we also talk about tough times for the Pac-12 and a key member school, plus an added challenge ahead at Pittsburgh.

College Basketball Tonight – March 11, 2018

March 12, 2018 by

College Basketball Tonight returns with a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament bracket, and in the second segment Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian joins us.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – March 10, 2018

March 10, 2018 by

As Championship Week nears its climax on the big Saturday, we look at a pair of semifinals and a lot of bubble teams that may be sweating it out on Sunday.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – March 8, 2018

March 8, 2018 by

As Championship Week heats up, we talk about bubble teams who may or may not want to earn their way into the NCAA Tournament, as well as a couple of mid-majors whose conference championship game was played earlier in the week.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – February 22, 2018

February 22, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we start with floor issues in the Big East and an important NCAA ruling that was upheld. Then we go on to the Big 12, where Wednesday night had a new twist, as well as the ACC and how it shapes up along with no team going undefeated in conference play this year.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter

Recruiting Coverage

Lincoln captures Hamilton Park title

August 15, 2017 by

For the first time, a public school won the Hamilton Park Summer League, and they were led by a big effort from a junior point guard in the title game.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Boston Shootout

June 12, 2017 by

Some news and notes coming from the second and final day of action at the 2017 Boston Shootout, where the host program provided plenty of talent, but so did a program that produced a team that beat them.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Northeast Hoops Festival

April 11, 2017 by

The Northeast Hoops Festival helped bring in the new spring travel season in New England, and we have notes from some of Saturday’s action.

2016 Boston Back to School Showcase notes

September 12, 2016 by

We look back at the 2016 Boston Back to School Showcase, where a couple of Boston City League teams were among the most impressive on the day.

2016 Hoopville Spring Finale championship recap

June 28, 2016 by

We look back at the championship games of the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, which had a big local flavor as one might have expected.