I was a member of Club Trillion long before Mark Titus took his first shot on a Little Tykes basketball hoop--but I'll get to Club Trillion later.
My brother recently sent me an antique photo that forced me to dust off some memories. Jockbrarian, circa 1985, when I hated reading, Phil Collins was topping the charts with cheezy duets, The Breakfast Club was a new release, and I was the 15th man on a 15 member varsity high school basketball squad that won 5 games.
My Junior year in high school I tried out with 60 other guys (back when "try-outs" actually existed and "entitlement" was in it's infancy). I moreless got asked to stick around. Three guys got the proposal of a lifetime: "We'd love to have you on the team, but you will absolutely never play." Only one sucker took the offer! Let's face it, I was honored and moved to be considered "just good enough."
Like my mullet, this attitude would never fly today. If a coach said this to a kid's face now, they'd laugh and skip for Taco Bell. There's no glory in just being on a team, anymore. People used to play the game because they loved the game. You want to tell me another time in life when you can play basketball for 3 hours a day? People laughed at me, but I didn't give a crap. I embraced the joke. If that made me a fool, so be it. At least I was a happy idiot. At one point that year, I even had a fan newsletter circulating after each home game analyzing my warm up stats, layup style points, and shell-drill performance. I was a curiosity and a cult-scrub; it was brilliant.
I bring all of this up because one of my favorite recently read books was Don't Put Me In Coach by Mark Titus. Titus played for Ohio State from 2006-2010, with the book being released in 2012. I say "play" loosely, as Titus was a bench warmer for the entire 4 years. Through his lack of playing, though, he created a blog called Club Trillion, which spoke not only to the sacred brotherhood of benchwarmers over the world, but also gave people an insider's view of a NCAA Div 1 college hoops program. Club Trillion was named to pay homage to the perfect game for a scrub: 0 stats in any game category. Through this blog, Titus became a crowd hero across the Big Ten for his reports from the pine.
Like most self proclaimed basketball prodogies, Titus began his playing journey in AAU ball, where he had the fortune of being on a team with fellow future Buckeyes Greg Oden and Mike Conley. From there he rose to walk-on status through mostly good fortune. The majority of the book covers his 4 years at Ohio State playing for one of the best teams of the decade. His stories include many reference to to Oden, Conley, and especially The Villian.
This is no Rudy story, though. There's no game winning basket and no miraculous rise from the floor after being knocked out. Thank God. There are enough Rudy stories on our shelves to disillusion kids into believing everything turns up roses and they are owed this trope. Titus is loved not for his accomplishments, but for his lack of accomplishments., which is why I connect with him.
Titus writes with great candor. He comes off as funny, a complete smart-ass, and kind of a knob. But that's what makes his story great. Deep down, people struggle with the try-hard Rudys--hustling around around and brown nosing with such numbing sincerity. Titus is a hustler, but he's not going to be anyone's bitch. That's how true survival works as a benchwrmer on a real team.
Some of my favorite parts are when he talks about his games against my Wisconsin Badger teams. Titus thinks our cheeleaders are ugly, and affectionately refers to our players as "the buzzcuts." Those Bo Ryan teams always looked like something out of Hoosiers, and by the time you were done laughing about how the hell any top 20 team could lose to a bunch of guys that looked like that, you'd already lost.
For all his self deprication, the truth is that Titus clearly loves the game and he values the walk-on experience. His final game as a Buckeye is a pretty cool moment that showed exactly the passion behind the madness for Titus. For that, I often felt while reading the book that he would have been a great fit with the buzzcuts. Hell, he probably would have played! (And I've heard that in between taking charges, they actually joke around in Wisconsin)
Titus often touts his high baskeball IQ, correctly infering that all of the "true learning" comes from time on the bench. Basketball knowledge? Not really....but you do learn pretty fast who sucks out on the court and how much better the game would be if you were playing.
Don't let the fact that the book is 6 years old scare you. The only thing that has changed about bench warming is that it used to accurately be called "riding the pines" in that team benches used to be the actual first row of the wooden bleachers. Now, not only are bleachers plastic, but most teams are parked for games on candy-ass mega padded fluff chairs. A true luxury for the Titus generation of stiffs.
Is this book fit for a high school library? Sure it is! It's crude and vulgar at times--many times-but if you would spend any time around a high school baskeball team, you'd hear far worse. I think there's a good message in all of this for young athletes anyways: Sometimes you have to chill out, laugh a little, not take sports so damn seriously, and enjoy the ride! It's a lesson I learned in 1985.