Brent Yarina, BTN.com Senior Editor, January 28, 2016
The 100th episode of "The Journey: Big Ten Basketball" airs at 9:30 p.m. ET Sunday on BTN/BTN2Go. To help preview the milestone episode of our award-winning series, I caught up with Mark Titus, arguably the Big Ten's most popular benchwarmer of all time and a Journey subject in 2010, for an email Q&A.
Read our full conversation below:
BTN.com: For starters, what have you been up to recently?
MT: Thanks to ESPN pulling the plug on Grantland (and therefore my college basketball column) just a few weeks before the college basketball season started, I've been doing a whole lot of nothing recently. And I gotta say — doing nothing is great. I can't recommend it enough. I was always told growing up that if you do something you love for a living, it will never feel like work. Well, I love doing nothing, which is why — believe it or not — these past few months haven't really felt like work at all!
BTN.com: So, that's what made you love your "benchwarmer" role so much? No, seriously, have you found any time to go shoot at a local gym or give us a new trick shot video?
MT: Club Trillion was always about doing nothing on the court. I made that my identity, became pretty popular for it, and now I have a hard time turning it off, I guess. But to give you a serious answer: I'm working on another book. Other than saying it will be about college basketball, I can't really get into specifics. For all you know, it might be a book about the best locker room toilets for road teams throughout the Big Ten. In which case, spoiler alert: Michigan State fans aren't going to be happy with where I rank the Breslin Center.
BTN.com: I'm intrigued. Here's an idea: A book on all of the great players you have called a teammate. Give me your Ohio State starting 5.
- PG: Mike Conley
- SG: Jon Diebler
- SF: Evan "The Villain" Turner
- PF: Othello Hunter
- C: Greg Oden
That's my starting 5 assuming I have to stay true to positions. Conley and Oden might be the two most talented guys to ever wear an Ohio State jersey, so they're pretty obvious picks. Diebler is statistically the best 3-point shooter in Big Ten history, which is generally a good thing for a shooting guard to be. And even though he's been my sworn nemesis for nearly a decade, I can't pretend that The Villain's 2009-10 season was anything but one jaw-dropping game after another. Those four are pretty obvious. But since I didn't play with Jared Sullinger, my power forward pick is a little tricky. I ultimately give the nod to Othello, who played a much bigger role on our 2007 Final Four team than even Ohio State fans realize. If an award for "most talented OSU player in the Thad Matta era that everyone forgets about" existed, Othello would be the runaway winner.
I should mention, though: If I don't have to stay true to positions and you're telling me to throw five guys onto the floor to win one game, I'm putting David Lighty in Othello's spot. Lighty was the kind of player that every coach dreams about having. He could play at least 3 positions, played them all well, was a ridiculous defender, was a hell of a leader, and was the hardest worker I've ever met in my life. I still get panic attacks once a month because I think about being matched up with Dave in practice.
BTN.com: That's a ridiculous team. You're right about Lighty, too. He'd be the perfect sixth man. How about your favorite moment or shot?
MT: Oh, man. You mean by me? Because that only leaves me three shots to choose from. Although, I would argue that one of the shots I missed at Ohio State was probably my favorite. I remember chucking a 3 from the corner my sophomore year and thinking from the moment it left my hand that it was going to hit the side of the backboard and go out of bounds. That shot felt like the climatic ending to a sports movie — the ball just hung in the air for what felt like 10 minutes and I said "oh crap oh crap oh crap" about a million times. And by some act of god, it missed the backboard and hit the rim, and I was spared embarrassment that would've probably lasted a lifetime.
If you're talking about my favorite moment in general, though, it's gotta be Ron Lewis's shot to beat Xavier in the 2007 NCAA tournament. I'll never forget sitting on the bench as that game wound down, thinking about where I was going to go for spring break. All season I had assumed we'd still be playing in the tourney and I wouldn't get a spring break, but losing to Xavier meant I'd get a week off. And it was pretty clear we were going to lose. Instead of focusing on the game and being upset, I solemnly started thinking of vacation ideas. But then Ron saved the day with his miracle. If you rewatch that shot and look to the bench, you'll notice that I wasn't even watching. Everyone else on the team was up and praying for the miracle while I, having been raised a fan of the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Vikings, had already accepted the fact that sports exist only to make me miserable. Shoot, even when he made it I was scared to get too excited. It's crazy to think about how different my life might be if Ron missed that shot — I'd have never gone to the Final Four and probably would've ended up transferring from OSU, which in turn means I wouldn't have ever started Club Trillion, written a book, became a college basketball writer, made pretty much every friend I have today, or met my wife. Life is weird.
BTN.com: I got in touch with you to promote the 100th episode of the Journey. What was it like having our cameras around your team and "The Villian" so much?
MT: It was so surreal. My entire "rise to fame" (for lack of a better phrase) was a weird dream, and being featured on The Journey was the icing on the cake. I mean, in 2008 I was just some anonymous guy on the end of the bench. People from my hometown didn't even know where I had gone to school or what I was doing. I frequently had to convince security at the Schottenstein Center that I was actually on the basketball team. I'm not saying I deserved more attention or anything. I'm just giving you an idea of what life was like.
And then, two years later, I was getting more interview requests from the media than my teammate who was the National Player of the Year. People asked for autographs and pictures when I was out in public. Shoot, some of my professors asked for my autograph. So when BTN asked me if they could follow me around campus with a camera crew, I just thought, What the hell is happening to my life right now? Instead of having to convince security at the Schott I was on the team, now I was giving them a thumbs-up as I strolled right past with a bunch of cameras in my face. That kind of thing does a number on an ego, man. I apologize to anyone and everyone who had to deal with me thinking I was the Pope or something back then. In my defense, it's hard to not think you're special when your life drastically changes seemingly overnight.
BTN.com: On a much more serious note, I know you recently announced that you've battled depression for much of your life. How hard was it to make that public?
MT: Honestly, it wasn't as hard as everyone assumes, and I'm not sure why. It should've been hard. I had basically kept this secret for 11 years and made my one purpose in life be to make sure nobody ever finds out about my secret. I seriously would have rather died than tell anybody. My parents didn't know, my brother didn't know, and my friends I've known forever didn't know. My wife knew, but only because it's impossible to completely hide something like that from a spouse. But then someone asked me "What makes you happy?" in a Reddit AMA and for some reason I just felt compelled to finally let it all spill out. I really only gave the "should I make this public?" question 30 seconds of thought. It was that impulsive of a decision.
A lot of people told me I should've written something for Grantland instead of writing it in a Reddit AMA, but that's the thing about my particular struggle with depression — I assumed nobody cared. It truly never crossed my mind that my story might help people who are battling the same stuff I was (and really always will be). Looking back, I get why it was such a big deal and why it's pretty crazy that I willingly put myself out there. But it was such a lonely struggle as I was going through it that I assumed it was my issue and my issue alone. And I should say: It helped that I felt like I had finally dug myself out of my hole. That was probably the real reason I didn't give much thought to it. It takes a lot more courage to admit you're at rock bottom when you're actually there than to tell people about your rock bottom a year or two after the fact.
Never anticipated yesterday's AMA prompting me to write most important thing I've ever written. But it did anyway: http://t.co/hvai8sDPbb— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) March 14, 2015
BTN.com: How has your life changed as a result of making it public?
MT: My life hasn't really changed that much since then. It's kind of weird being known as "that depression guy" by some people and it was certainly weird those first couple months after when everyone reached out to me to apologize for not doing something sooner, as though they could've or I would've let them anyway. But my day-to-day life is pretty much the same. I'll always have to deal with depression and I've certainly had my fair share of bad days since. I think of my life as though I was in a literal pit with a rope tied around my ankle, and every time I tried to climb out of the pit, there was someone who would grab the rope and pull me back in. So right now, I feel like I've finally made it out of the pit and I'm doing my best to walk as far away from it as possible. But I'll always have that rope around my ankle and that guy in the pit will always be trying to drag me back. I'm pretty conscious of my mental state at all times, though, so I'm confident that I can handle whatever life throws at me.
BTN.com: Wow. Nothing but respect for you. If you had to pick one quality, what is it about you that made you so popular among all fans bases?
MT: I think I was popular because I represented the everyman. The thoughts I shared on my blog about situations I found myself in as a benchwarmer were probably thoughts that tons of people could relate to, most likely because they were a benchwarmer at some point in their lives. There was nothing inherently special about me other than being a little taller than average, being able to shoot a basketball decently well, and knowing the right people. So I like to think that even though it was my story and my experience, I gave the general public an idea of what it would be like for them to ride the bench at a big-time college basketball program. That's not always true of first-person athlete stories. If LeBron wrote an autobiography, I'd know what it's like to be LeBron, but I wouldn't know what it would be like for me to be in the NBA. I was relatable, I didn't take myself too seriously, I pushed the envelope by making fun of coaches and superstar teammates, and I was a voice for the voiceless. At least that's what I tell myself.
BTN.com: Which rival student section treated you best?
MT: Minnesota's student section started a "We want Titus!" chant, which was pretty crazy. But there was also a guy in that same student section who told me I had a muffin top, and that was just plain rude. Purdue's student section made signs for me, but they also kept saying my mom was better than me (which is true — she was 2x MVP at Purdue in the late 70s/early 80s). So I'll go with Wisconsin. They made signs, said nice things, and asked for pictures. And I still get treated really well whenever I go back to Madison, which is nice.
BTN.com: What did you see more of during your Ohio State career: Thad Matta chewing gum or Aaron Craft's cheeks turning red?
MT: Craft's cheeks technically never turned red — they were always red. Coach Matta wins this one.
BTN.com: Most comfortable bench seat of all Big Ten arenas?
MT: Ohio State is the obvious answer. Other than that, I'll say Penn State.
BTN.com: Most unexpected person you struck up a conversation with at the end of the bench?
MT: When Charissa Thompson was working for BTN and doing one of our games, I said something I thought was much more clever than it probably was as she peeked into our huddle. She said something back to me that made it clear that she knew who I was. That was probably the pinnacle of my life.
BTN.com: Why No. 34?
MT: I wore #34 because I was enormous when I was growing up. (I was 6-foot-4 in 8th grade, which is the exact same height I am now). I was basically the Shaq of suburban Indianapolis youth rec league basketball, which is why I loved Shaq and wore his Lakers number my entire basketball life.
BTN.com: Opponent who you most wanted to drain a hand-in-the-face 3-pointer against?
MT: Chris Kramer. He guarded me in a summer game in high school and wouldn't let me breathe. If I had gotten in against Purdue and drained a 3 in his face, I probably would've just held my follow through, turned to the Purdue student section to taunt them, backed my way into the locker room as the rest of the guys on the court kept playing, and never stopped talking about it the rest of my life.