When the 1982-83 college basketball season began, Jim Valvano and his N.C. State Wolfpack had high hopes.
Still, after N.C. State suffered 10 regular-season losses, few could have forecast the team’s postseason run to the NCAA Division I championship. Valvano’s Wolfpack “survived and advanced” its way to the title with nine straight improbable victories.
In the latest ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 installment Survive and Advance (Sunday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN), director Jonathan Hock takes a poignant look at the dream season through the eyes of senior captain — and current ESPN basketball analyst — Dereck Whittenburg.
The film also explores what, at times, has been a tragic and heartbreaking aftermath in the 30 years since.
Front Row sat down with Hock in advance of the film’s debut.
You’ve directed films for ESPN before, covering a variety of topics (Unguarded, The Best That Never Was). What drew you to this particular subject?
N.C. State’s miracle run happened when I was a sophomore in college, which was probably the height of my life as a college basketball fan. Dereck and [Wolfpack teammates] Sidney [Lowe] and Thurl [Bailey] were legends to me, real Mt. Rushmore guys. So when Dereck himself called me to ask if I’d help him tell the story of the team for the 30th anniversary of their championship, how could I ever say anything but yes?
There are some interviewees in the film who, when talking about coach Valvano, were moved to tears. Was this one of the more difficult stories to tell, considering how touching his story is?
When the producer/editor Jim Podhoretz showed me his first cut of our final sequence, it ended and we were both sitting there in the cutting room in tears. I just gave him a hug and left the room without any words. Even though we all know the ending, there is something unexpectedly powerful about how the people closest to Jimmy V describe losing him.
Can you talk a little about how the story is, essentially, told through the eyes of Dereck Whittenburg?
Although the famous final championship moment is the result of a total team effort, it is a moment usually associated with three people: Whit, Coach V and Lorenzo Charles. Whit is the only one left, and it was very important to him that the story be told as completely and deeply as possible. Making the film was his journey across 30 years gone by, and he was our guiding light.