Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Don't Put Me In, Coach (2012)

By Mark Titus

Let us consider the sports figure called "the walk-on."

It's a unique spot, limited to college sports. Sometimes teams have a few extra positions on the roster, particularly in football and basketball. Therefore, they invite everyday students to try out. A few make it. Virtually note of them ever become important parts of the team. Instead, they get pounded by the scholarship players in practice, and then sit on the bench and cheer wildly for their teammates at games.

A perfect example of this type of player is Mark Titus, who was at Ohio State from 2006 to 2010. He kept a blog for a portion of his time there, and that work has been expanded into the book, "Don't Put Me In, Coach." It's safe to predict that this will soon become the favorite basketball book of 20-somethings everywhere who want to know what a big-time program is like.

Titus was a very good high school player in Indiana, to the point where he played AAU ball with Greg Oden. But he wasn't quite good enough to play top-level Division I basketball. Instead of heading to a lower level of competition and playing there, Titus opted to go with friends like Oden to Ohio State. After a stint as a manager fell through, Titus walked on to the Buckeyes' roster and stayed for four years.

Luckily, Titus brought his sense of humor along with him. He was on a team that had a coach in Thad Matta who enjoyed a good laugh himself, and thus was happy to keep Titus around to keep everyone a bit loose. You need that quality when faced with the fact that you'll never play more than four minutes in a single game over the course of a career.

After a while, Titus started a blog about his experiences with the Buckeyes, and against all odds it became popular. An interview with ESPN's Bill Simmons, Titus' favorite sports writer (the influence shows, particularly in cultural references that are hit-or-miss), helped propel him to an odd degree of fame. His status reached the point that on senior night, a few thousand people in the stands were wearing t-shirts with his blog's logo on it and thus helped raise thousands for a local charity.

Titus has some things to work with here. His freshman team reached the national championship game, losing to Florida, and he played with such figures as Oden (number one NBA draft choice in 2007) and Evan Turner (number two NBA draft choice in 2010). But mostly it's about Titus and his adventures, and he brings a keen eye to an odd situation. For example, he writes about how he had to explain to Erin Andrews of ESPN why he wrote in his blog that their imaginary relationship had ended. For example, he writes about the fake letter he wrote to an assistant coach signed by a racist, homophobic fan, explaining why the coach was a big jerk (or a word to that effect) for not playing that number 34 guy a lot more. In other words, this should have you giggling frequently.

Titus' book isn't for the faint of heart at times. If there's been a book that devotes more time to the author's, um, digestive problems, I haven't read it. The title refers to the time that the author turned down a chance to play because of such issues. And he seems determined to set a record for the most ways to refer to a person's, um, private parts. It's tough to get an official count on such matters, but he's a contender.

But Titus does show some smarts here, a way with a one-liner, and even a little heart. It's hard to say where he goes after "Don't Put Me In, Coach," but he has a chance to get plenty of playing time as a writer in the seasons to come.

Four stars

Learn more about this book.

Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.