This piece was originally published in Dime 70. Check national newsstands now to see the feature in its entirety…
The world of a Division I walk-on is simple: Pick up the towels, be the scout team and cheer on the players who matter. They come and go, and no one notices. But one walk-on was different. Mark Titus became one of the most famous players in America not because he was good at basketball, but because he could write.
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My instructions were simple: meet at 6 p.m. at the Chipotle in Upper Arlington, near Ohio State’s campus; look for the tall bearded guy wearing sweatpants and looking homeless.
“Homeless” was a little strong, but the narrative of characteristics Mark Titus applied to himself were pretty precise. They were also necessary. As is often the case with someone that garners recognition on the Internet, even Titus’s biggest fans probably wouldn’t notice him if he walked past them on the street. Or sitting across from them eating a burrito.
Titus rose to national prominence as the creator and voice behind Club Trillion, the blog he started as a walk-on member of the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team in 2008. Relegated to the end of the pine for the majority of his four years (48 career minutes), Titus parlayed his bench-warming status on one of college basketball’s most visible teams into notoriety, writing about his inside experiences with teammates, coaches and the NCAA. His blog quickly caught the eye of many, whether they were rooting on the Scarlet & Grey in Columbus, Ohio, or simply following college basketball across the country.
Today, he’s coming off the March 6 release of his first book – Don’t Put Me In, Coach. He’s wearing a red, Nike dri-fit pullover, black sweats and gym shoes. His dark brown hair is cropped close and hidden under a goofy Ohio State winter hat, complete with a fuzzy pom-pom on the very top, which he wears throughout our entire interview. His beard is full yet nicely trimmed, giving off more of a “refined homeless” look than he initially described. He’s lanky, skinny, and at 6-4, much taller than you would expect, largely a product of being constantly surrounded by future lottery picks during his playing days at OSU.
“I’ve read some pretty shitty books,” says Titus, discussing the thought process behind authoring his own work through bites of rice and beans. “I remember my English teacher in high school getting a book published, so I thought if she could do it, then I could do it.”
Looking up from his food, Titus’s permanent, sly grin is plastered across his face. This is the Mark Titus that most people know – the funny, witty, sarcastic Mark Titus. The Mark Titus that gave teammates stupid nicknames and winked awkwardly at national TV cameras while his head coach was being interviewed post-game. The Mark Titus that enchanted and dazzled college basketball fans for years, without ever taking off his warm-up. But how did he get here? And why the hell is he writing a book about it?
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Titus grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, the middle child of Bill and Laura. He excelled at sports early in life, reaching his current height by the time he was in eighth grade. He went on to be the starting quarterback at Brownsburg High School and led the basketball team in scoring for three straight seasons. But it was his skill as a long-range shooter that earned him his big break, landing him a spot on an AAU team alongside future NBA hoopers Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Eric Gordon and Josh McRoberts.
“I was on an all-white AAU team. We were all white kids that just shot threes,” says Titus. “We played against Mike and Greg’s team, and they were like the best team in the country. I guess they didn’t have a lot of shooters, so I got recruited to play on their team.”
Mark joined the squad the summer before his freshman year of high school, quickly developing a close friendship with guys like Conley and Oden.
“I remember asking Greg if he was going to play on his high school varsity team that year,” recalls Titus. “By the end of the year he was like First Team All-State or whatever. I felt like an idiot.”
In four years, the team lost only three games, traveling across the country to play against guys like O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love and Brandon Jennings. Every player on the squad ended up going on to play at a Division I school, a decision Titus struggled with. He was recruited to play at a few mid-major colleges, but after his parents and brother all attended Big 10 programs, that was the only college experience Mark had ever known. He wanted the same thing, even if it meant giving up basketball.
So he applied to Ohio State because Oden kept joking he should come be in his entourage. When playing elsewhere didn’t workout, he found himself a Buckeye.
“Best mistake of my life,” he says.
Through his relationship with his AAU teammates and one of the assistant coaches, Titus earned a spot as one of the team managers for the Buckeyes. He quickly realized it was mainly grunt work instead of basketball. He quit, only to get asked back a few weeks later after some guys went down with injuries, earning a spot as a walk-on.
“He told me he could play,” says Kyle Madsen, a teammate at Ohio State. “He didn’t do a whole lot at first, was mainly just out there. But once he started playing, he hit three after three, so I figured out he could at least shoot.”