As the fairy godmother of basketball already knows and Georgia discovered today, Cinderella's slipper just now is a size-12 Pony and belongs to Dereck Whittenburg. Because he and she, not necessarily in that order, have touched North Carolina State in a special way the last few weeks, the NCAA tournament will end in fitting fashion here Monday night.
State is the human-looking gang that has beaten long odds and the best player in the country, Ralph Sampson, twice to get to the championship game. Now it gets to chase the best team, maybe the first collection of space-age players, the men of Houston, who call themselves Phi Slama Jama and who De Phi Belief.
Before Houston got us trembling with near-awe, State was pretty good itself. It kept lots of Bulldogs who run with greyhound speed leashed and controlled the game early, because Whittenburg once again hit jump shots from close to the Arizona border.
"Once I'm on a roll," he said, "it goes into my mind that nobody can check me."
In all, Whittenburg was an ordinary eight for 18. But many of the misses came after State had the game well in control. For the ninth time under playoff pressure, he showed how a little fellow can dictate how a large man's game will be played.
He controls it.
Everybody dances to Dereck's dribbles.
Because they have a few players slightly taller than the 6-1 Whittenburg who can jump as high, some thinkers figured the Dawgs had a fine chance today.
They backed off Whittenburg the first two State possessions, and got behind by 4-0; then they got cute, and quickly trailed by 19-10.
We pause, perhaps for the last time in the tournament, to appreciate cerebral basketball, several stretches when Whittenburg controlled matters without touching the ball. First, drift back to State's fourth time down court. Poor Vern Fleming needs help, and gets it.
Twenty feet from the basket, Gerald Crosby leaves Sidney Lowe unattended and leaps to double-team Whittenburg. Swiftly, Whittenburg slips the ball to Lowe. And his former De Matha High partner pops in a jumper.
Later, Crosby and Fleming try the same trick once more. Only this time an inside player dashes toward Lowe when Whittenburg beats the double-team with a return pass. So Lowe simply bounces the ball to the open Lorenzo Charles.
It continued that way for 34 minutes. Because Whittenburg always was a threat, somebody else had a wonderful chance to score. And usually did. With 5:53 left, the Wolfpack had a 59-41 lead.
Four minutes later, Georgia had cut that to six.
"We should be able to milk a lead like that," Coach Jim Valvano joked. "We're an agricultural school."
"Actually, I prefer a larger man on me," Whittenburg said a few moments after State's success, not yet thinking ahead to the taller Cougars. "A guy like that does have an advantage, but only up to a point. He can lay off me, keep me from driving, hoping I'll miss a few from outside and then stop.
"I always prefer to drive, but I've got enough confidence that I can jump quicker than somebody bigger, get up before he can reach his peak. Or my peak."
Whittenburg's concern in those situation is that he will be overmatched on defense, that the points his man scores will negate his. Mostly, that only has happened when he has challenged Adrian Dantley, the NBA all-star.
"He's really roughed me up inside," Whittenburg admits.
He also admitted wanting State's fate in his hands early. Ill earlier in the week, his temperature reaching 101, Whittenburg was anxious to go as far as he could as hard as he could.
"I knew I'd be tired," he explained. "I just didn't know when. I wanted to be a factor early, because Georgia is the type team that packs a zone in tight. Sometimes, I'd be breathing hard, and look at coach to put somebody else in.
"He'd shake his head no."
Even though every shot counts two points, Whittenburg gets excited by three-point lines. The one here is much closer than in Ogden, Utah, last week, extending just beyond the top of the key.
"Saw that," he said, "and liked it."
It was nice of Georgia to miss several open shots early, to in fact miss about 70 percent of the time most of the game. The Dawgs' shots usually were forced; State's usually were not.
To a national audience, Valvano patiently repeated his sermon that any shot Whittenburg chooses to take is a good one.
Even from 25 feet.
With a paw in his face.
"Of course he has a green light," Valvano said.
First-time opponents and fans are startled to find that Terry Gannon hops off the bench and guns from even longer distances.
"That's how I got good," Whittenburg says, "playing H-O-R-S-E with Gannon."
Although it was deceptively close, this was one of State's easier games. No need to rally from being down a half-dozen points this time; no need for hearts to flutter furiously before two shots misfire; no need even for Lorenzo Charles to sink dramatic foul shots.
"Fact was," said losing Coach Hugh Durham, "we didn't put the ball in the basket."
From any distance with regularity. Three yards; three feet; three inches.
That always assures a seat in the stands for the final.
When the challenge is Houston, that may be the safest place in the arena.
"Missed the first half (of Houston-Louisville)," said Valvano. "Sorry I saw the second."
One of the State faithful, Jim Pomeranz, was among the first to realize the only hope against the Phi Slams.
"What we'll be," he said, sounding surprisingly confident, "is Phi Slowa Downa."