SARASOTA ― He has become nearly as much of a fixture at the annual Dick Vitale Gala as...well...Dick Vitale.Dereck Whittenburg, fearless guard with the feathery shooting touch for N.C. State’s 1983 national title team, says he has missed only one of the 14 lavish Vitale banquets held each year to raise money for pediatric cancer research.For him, the host’s impassioned speeches, not to mention the stirring stories of prepubescents conquering chemotherapy, never get old.For that matter, neither does Survive and Advance .“This Christmas, they showed Survive and Advance , and 68 million people watched it,” said Whittenburg, an executive producer for the wildly successful sports documentary on the ’83 Wolfpack and Coach Jim Valvano’s own valiant fight with cancer.“Thirty-six years after the championship, 68 million people watched Survive and Advance .” Related: Dick Vitale’s gala rises above college hoops’ dark clouds Before entering the dining hall at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota (where Vitale hoped to raise $4 million for cancer research through the V Foundation), Whittenburg shared some insight about the film, which debuted in 2013 and has become one of the most acclaimed projects in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.Among the lesser-known facts about the film:* The restaurant in which the team gathered to reminisce was the Players’ Retreat, which first opened in Raleigh in 1951 and is regarded as a local institution.“So when we sat around the table, I told (director) Jonathan Hock, ‘We don’t want any questions. I don’t want nobody to say anything, just let us go,’” Whittenburg said. "And they filmed it like that.“That’s why it came across real. When you have a reunion, you just want people to come from their heart and tell stories. So we just sat there for an hour and a half and just told stories, and they just filmed it.”* When Valvano and the team gathered at Reynolds Coliseum in 1993 for the 10-year anniversary celebration of the national title, the players knew Valvano had cancer but didn’t know his condition was terminal.“None of us knew,” Whittenburg said. “He had been given a length of time in which he didn’t know how long he was gonna live. We did not know that.”* Whittenburg said he never cried over Valvano’s illness and subsequent death (on April 28, 1993) until being filmed for the documentary in a darkened, empty Reynolds Coliseum. The scene appears at the very end.“I stopped the guys with the camera,” Whittenburg said.“I said, ‘Am I supposed to be doing this?’ The (camera) guy said to me, ‘This is award-winning stuff.’ I never cried at his funeral, I never cried at anything. And all of the sudden I just broke down, was emotional, said I miss him.”* Many of the scenes were completed in one take. “They didn’t go back and say, ‘Hey, do this again and cry,'" Whittenburg said. "I set up the one with (Duke coach) Mike Krzyzewski. When he walked in, I went to greet him, I showed him where to go, one take for every scene that we had.”* Whittenburg needed two years to get the project off the ground. “I was turned down by several networks, even ESPN twice before the third time was a charm,” he said.“And that just goes to show you that if you believe in something, you just keep persevering until you see it through. And in 2013 it finally came to fruition. I just believed that this was gonna be a great project.”Former ESPN executive chairman George Bodenheimer, now a member of the V Foundation board of directors, said the team’s surreal title run (it needed three ACC tourney victories to even make the NCAA field), coupled with the unscripted dinner-table conversation, make it “a timeless work.”“It seemed like they had such a great relationship, and they’re having such a good time ripping each other,” Bodenheimer said. “'Do you remember this?' and ‘You wouldn’t have had that if I didn’t do this.’ It sort of was like an everyman, and I think that’s part of its appeal.” Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.