Mark Titus Is Coming Home For March Madness

Born and raised in central Indiana, Mark Titus has been a hoops fanatic all his life. Two years ago he moved from the Midwest for almost 365 days of sun in Southern California, but no amount of Vitamin D can cure his love for the game. Whenever he drives by an old gymnasium or a college basketball arena, he’s still overcome with a fervent desire to locate an unlocked door and step onto the hardwood.

Fortunately, his passion coincides with his day job. Titus co-hosts the Fox Sports’ Westwood One network podcast “Titus and Tate,” and writes a weekly College Hoops Newsletter. He got his start in media as a basketball player at Ohio State from 2006-2010, where he started the Club Trillion blog to chronicle his walk-on experience. But it wasn’t your typical story hard-won, pine-riding determination. He famously noted how during a blowout he once requested to remain on the bench, ignoring the request of the Buckeyes’ then-head coach Thad Matta.

“I was the market correction to Rudy,” Titus says.

His on-the-bench antics and comedic musings earned him a book deal and a writing gig with Grantland, the now defunct ESPN-affiliated sports and pop culture website. From there, Titus moved on to a similar role with The Ringer before leaving for Fox Sports. 

Now, for the first time in more than a year, he’ll return to his native Indiana to cover the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, where each game will be played within an hour of Indianapolis. We asked him about the origins of his hoops obsession, why Indiana is the perfect host site, his new charity foundation, and the origins of his hoops obsession.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When was the last time you got back to Indiana? I know it’s a little harder to travel during the pandemic.

I took a trip back home about a year ago, before everything started. I grew up in Brownsburg in Hendricks County, over on the west side. And my parents moved to Plainfield, even further away from downtown Indy. I basically just go back to visit my family, I don’t get downtown as much, so I’m excited to go back for the Final Four. I know it’s not going to be the same. There’s going to be a lot of restrictions and whatnot in place, but I’m excited, because there’s still an energy and a buzz whenever there’s something going on in Indy that you can definitely feel, I’m excited to get back to that.

Did you think it was a foregone conclusion that Indianapolis would be the pick to host the tournament?

I’m biased because I’m a Hoosier and come from central Indiana, so to me it’s a no-brainer. But even removing the bias I have towards how great of a city Indianapolis is, it makes so much sense. I’m going to say “we,” by the way, a lot, even though I don’t live in Indy. I take a lot of pride in being from Indianapolis.

People outside of Indiana don’t realize how great some of these venues are.

My appreciation for basketball arenas is born out of being raised in Indiana. It’s not uncommon for me to, if I’m taking road trips across the country, and if there’s a college or something on the way, I will pull off. I will try to find a door that’s unlocked. I will just walk in and stare at the arena — I walk in, it’s empty, and no one’s in there, and I’m like, “Wow, sweet.” Anybody who’s with me is like, “What the hell are we doing here?”

It’s hard to explain. I grew up going to Hinkle Fieldhouse and Assembly Hall and Mackey Arena. When you have that in your blood, you just appreciate old basketball arenas, I guess.

As a player and part of the media, how has seeing basketball culture across the country changed your appreciation for Indiana basketball?

In Indiana, it’s definitely less of a hobby, it’s not even a passion. It’s a part of life. People love basketball all over the country. If you take the most crazed people in Indiana and their love of basketball, there’s just as much passion in and Eastern Washington from Gonzaga fans, or even in L.A., you’ll find UCLA fans that are diehards. The difference to me is not the top. It’s the people in the middle, the average Hoosier who maybe doesn’t even identify as a basketball fan. They still know more about basketball than anybody. You take people that never played organized basketball in Indiana, and they could still probably shoot a basketball. They could still probably dribble. It’s a language. It’s a livelihood. It runs through Hoosiers’ blood. 

I take a ton of pride in that, too. I obviously don’t live in Indiana anymore, but until the day I die I will be waving the flag for basketball in the Hoosier State. It’s just something I was raised on. My dad is an athletic director, so when I was growing up I would go to high school games all over the state. I listened to Bob Lovell on Friday nights. He’s taking all the call-ins from the high school coaches, asking about how the games went. And I’m writing notes down, like, “Okay, Western Boone has a good team this year. We’ve got to keep an eye on them.” 

This is the one area where nostalgia works for me. I romanticize it, to the point that I fantasize about having a family someday like, “If I have a son, do I need to move back so that he can grow up playing high school basketball in Indiana?”

When people think of Indiana high school basketball, they jump to Hoosiers, or even a more recent era such as the late 1980s, when Damon Bailey played. But you could argue that Indiana high school basketball peaked when you were in high school from 2002-2006, given the incredible top-level talent that was in the Indianapolis area.

I remember my senior year [at Brownsburg High School], we played Pike in the sectional championship. It was at Brownsburg and Pike was No. 2 in the state because, of course, Lawrence North is No. 1, with [Utah Jazz guard Mike] Conley and [No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft Greg] Oden, and they went undefeated and they’d won the last two state titles. But Pike had [Boston Celtics guard and NBA All-Star] Jeff Teague, and they had four or five other guys that ended up going Division I, and they were so good. We were up five on them with about two minutes left. Frankly, I choked. I blew it down the stretch. It was my senior year. That was the last high school basketball game I played. Jeff Teague just kind of turned it on. I was the best player on our team so I was supposed to match Jeff Teague, and I was like “That ain’t happening guys, Sorry.” But anyway, I’m crying. I’m sad, my career’s over, all that kind of stuff. 

Then I remember looking up the next week, and Pike’s playing Lawrence North at the regional tournament and I say to myself, “Oh my God, if we would have beat Pike, I would have had to guard Greg Oden in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise.” I’m really good friends with Greg, so he would have killed me. If he would have known that I was guarding him in that game, he would have just been laughing the entire time. 

The blog you started, Club Trillion, has turned into the Club Trillion Foundation. My understanding is that you give scholarships to walk-ons?

There are so many deserving walk ons around the country. So I decided I want to start a scholarship. We made it open to walk-ons all over the country. Last year a kid from Mississippi State won it. This year, we’ve had a handful of submissions already for applications. It’s not just my thing, either. The committee, the guys who are deciding who wins the scholarship, I have nothing to do with it. It’s all former walk-ons from around the country that are deciding who gets to win. There’s one guy that played in the 1980s that’s on the committee. There’s a guy that graduated two years ago. I have guys who played at North Carolina, Ohio State. There are guys that played at tiny schools that you’ve never heard of, and everything in between. 

They get together, they look over the submissions, they all have their unique perspectives on their walk-on experience, and then they ultimately decide on a winner. Walk-ons not only don’t get scholarships, but they also can’t profit off their own name. The whole thing is just very, very strange. You have to adhere to the same rules as the scholarship guys, but you don’t get the benefits that the scholarship guys get. It’s a weird gap in the way the rules work, that I felt like I could step up and fill in a little bit.

I want to ask you about Indiana University and [head coach] Archie Miller. In terms of in-state recruiting, it’s improved since [the tenure of former IU head coach] Tom Crean. Miller has landed Mr. Basketball every year. What are your thoughts on his tenure thus far?

It’s been better than I think Indiana fans think it’s been. But it’s obviously not the standard that Indiana basketball should strive for. So I don’t blame Indiana fans. The problem is Archie’s style. He’s trying to basically emulate what Tony Bennett did at Virginia, and that’s very hard to do. It looks good on paper to suddenly have a National Championship program that’s winning the ACC every year — you’re like, “yeah, we should do that.” But there’s a reason no one else really does it, because it’s very hard to pull off. The growing pains of instituting that system are what we’re experiencing when we’re watching Indiana basketball. It’s a lot of ugly games, offensively challenged games. 

I’m confident in Indiana. This team I actually think is pretty good. Their record doesn’t reflect it, but if you look at how they’re losing games, it’s super frustrating. They lose in close games, and they lose in overtime, and then against Wisconsin, it’s double overtime. Man, they’re so close. But I see that as a sign of encouragement. I think if Trayce Jackson-Davis comes back, and I don’t know what he wants to do or what he’s going to do, then I think the pieces are there for it to be good. I also understand that everything that’s coming out of my mouth right now is something that has been said about Indiana basketball for a while now. I understand why fans are impatient. Certainly IU lingering around .500, lingering around the bubble, that’s not IU basketball.

I love Archie as a person. I played for him at Ohio State. He was awesome, he was a great coach. I believe in his vision, but at the same time, Archie will be the first to tell you “I knew what I was signing on for, I knew this is Indiana, and there’s a standard.”

I don’t know if you’ve talked about this much recently, but do you think the door is opening back up at Chicago State at all?

The door has never been closed on my end. Chicago State hurt my heart so much that they wouldn’t even call me that I no longer even want the job. I just want to be acknowledged. I just want to be interviewed at this point. I think my chances are getting better as more time goes by, because you look around the country, the trend is just hiring former players. I think I can convince an athletic director that I was a better player than I actually was, try to erase my career from Google, and all that stuff. I just want one interview, that’s all I want. I think I can be the guy that wows them in the interview. You hear about the guy who gets hired, and you’re like, “What the hell happened there?,” then it comes out that he just interviews really well — I think I could be that guy.