When Dereck Whittenburg took over the reins of the Wagner College program in 1999, many wondered what he was doing. The Wagner program had just experienced five straight losing seasons and had never won a Northeast Conference championship in over 20 years as a member of the conference.
Whittenburg quickly changed that, leading the Seahawks to a winning record and an NIT bid in his third year and then the NEC title and their first ever NCAA bid in 2003.
For the past six years, Fordham fans have experienced that Whittenburg magic. Taking a team that was comprised of five true freshmen and only four scholarship players in 2004-05, Whittenburg led the Rams to double-digit win totals the past four years, including their first winning season in over 15 years in 2006-07, as Fordham went 18-12 overall, 10-6 in the Atlantic 10 to tie for fourth place. The ten Atlantic 10 wins were the most for a Fordham team since the Rams joined the conference in 1995-96, while the 18 overall wins were the most for Fordham since the 1991-92 squad went 18-13, Fordham's last winning season prior to 2006-07.
Whittenburg's teams have also performed in the classroom with all five of his 2007-08 seniors graduating in four years, including two of the top ten scorers in Fordham basketball history: Bryant Dunston, who also left as the all-time leading shot blocker, and Marcus Stout.
The 2006-07 Rams' success was due to a trademark Whittenburg defense, as the Rams ranked first in the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 64.2 ppg, while Fordham also defended its home turf, going 11-3 in the historic Rose Hill Gym, the most home wins in a season since the 1992-93 squad won 11.
The 2006-07 season followed a 2005-06 slate in which the Rams compiled a 16-16 overall record, 9-7 in the Atlantic 10.
The nine conference wins secured a fifth place finish for the Rams in 2005-06, and the Rams took advantage of the high seed in the conference tournament, advancing to the Atlantic 10 Championship semifinals for the first time ever. Fordham opened the championships with a 45-37 win over Richmond and then defeated La Salle, 64-62, in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals the Rams faced eventual tournament winners, Xavier, falling to the Musketeers, 79-59.
Other significant accomplishments for the Rams in 2005-06 were a win at Virginia and one at Temple. With the win at Virginia, Fordham became just the third Atlantic 10 institution to upend an ACC school on their home court since the 1995-96 season. It was also the first win for a Fordham team over an Atlantic Coast Conference school since the Rams defeated N.C. State on January 4, 1967, a streak of ten games.
The win at Temple was also significant in that it broke a 34-game losing streak in the city of Philadelphia for the Rams, who had not won in the City of Brotherly Love since 1990. The win was also Whittenburg's 100th career coaching victory.
The 2005-06 accomplishments came on the heels of the 2004-05 season in which Whittenburg led the Rams to the 13-16 overall record, 8-8 in the conference. The eight conference wins were the most by a Fordham team since joining the Atlantic 10 and put the Rams in fourth place in the East Division, while the 13 overall wins were the most for the Rams since the 1999-2000 squad went 14-15.
As a result of the Rams' success in 2004-05, Whittenburg was rewarded with a contract extension following the season that will keep him on the Fordham bench through the 2010 season.
In his first year at Fordham, Whittenburg led the Rams to a 6-22 overall finish, 3-13 in the Atlantic 10. But what the record didn't show was that the Rams were an intense, hard-working group who fought until the end of each game. This effort happened despite playing many games shorthanded due to injury, dressing no more than seven scholarship players at times.
Whittenburg, 49, brought 20 years of college coaching experience to Rose Hill, including five seasons at Georgia Tech under former head coach Bobby Cremins. As Wagner's head coach from 1999 to 2003, he led the Seahawks to a 67-50 record.
The Seahawks improved every year under Whittenburg, advancing from 11 wins his first year to 21 in 2002-03. Wagner finished the 2002-03 campaign with a 21-11 overall record, 14-4 in the Northeast Conference (NEC). The Seahawks won the Northeast Conference Tournament, winning the three games by an average of over 15 points per game, en route to earning their first ever NCAA Tournament bid. Wagner fell to second seeded University of Pittsburgh, 87-61, in Boston.
Wagner earned numerous Northeast Conference accolades in 2002-03, with Whittenburg earning the Jim Phelan Coach of the Year Award. Wagner senior forward Jermaine Hall also earned NEC Player of the Year honors.
In 2001-02, Whittenburg led Wagner to a 19-11 overall record, 15-5 in the conference - the best record for the school in Northeast Conference history, with the Seahawks advancing to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) for the first time in 23 years.
The Seahawks offense fueled the turnaround, leading the NEC in scoring three of Whittenburg's four seasons, including an 81.4 point average in 2001-02. Whittenburg's squad ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring two of his last three seasons at Wagner.
Aside from the team's play on the court, Whittenburg is just as proud of his team's accolades off the court. Six of his players reached the Wagner College Dean's List in 2001-02, and the team's grade point average approached 3.0 overall. Wagner also had a player named Northeast Conference Student-Athlete of the Year and Academic All-District I selection in 2002-03.
In May of 2003, Whittenburg was selected as a court coach for the 2003 USA Basketball Men's National Team Trials. His duties included serving as a court coach during the 2003 USA Basketball Men's National Team Trials that were held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Trials court coaching staff is responsible for conducting drills, coaching scrimmages and working with players who tried for spots on a pair of 2003 USA teams.
A Washington, D.C. native and a 1984 graduate of North Carolina State, Whittenburg began his coaching career as a graduate assistant in Raleigh for the Wolfpack (1985-86). He then moved on to George Mason (1986-87) and Long Beach State as a full-time assistant coach (1987-88) before returning to his alma mater for a three-year stint (1988-91) under then head coach, the late Jimmy Valvano.
In his playing days, Whittenburg achieved national prominence as a starting guard on the N.C. State basketball team that recorded one of the most remarkable upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament by defeating a heavily favored Houston team featuring "Phi Slamma Jamma," Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, for the national title in 1983. In the closing seconds of the title game, Whittenburg's desperation 40-foot heave missed the mark, but was slammed home by teammate Lorenzo Charles to seal the championship.
Whittenburg is currently ranked 27th on N.C. State's all-time scoring list and second on the Wolfpack's career three-point shooting list. As a junior, he was named second team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and second team All-ACC Tournament. In his senior season, he was named to the All-ACC Tournament team and was honored as the West Region and NCAA Finals Most Valuable Player.
Following his collegiate career, Whittenburg was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the third round (51st overall) of the 1983 NBA Draft.
A former prep school All-American at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, he played for legendary coach Morgan Wootten's 1978 undefeated national championship team.
During his playing days at both DeMatha and N.C. State, Whittenburg played against high-profile stars such as Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and a host of others.
In late October 2001, Whittenburg was honored with induction into the DeMatha Athletic Hall of Fame for his outstanding accomplishments as a high school athlete. Whittenburg's collegiate alma mater also retired his jersey in honor of his outstanding college career.
Whittenburg earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from North Carolina State in 1984. He is an active member of the V Foundation, established by Valvano to raise money to fight cancer, and sits on its board of directors. A community leader, Whittenburg also sat on the board of the Staten Island CYO and the YMCA in Manhattan.
Whittenburg is married to the former Jackie Williams of Raleigh, N.C.