Feb. 25, 2009

Great players come and go from collegiate basketball programs all the time. Sometimes they come in with big shoes to fill and lots of expectations to lead a team to greatness. Then, there are times when highly touted high school stars just can't hack the college game and fizzle out never to be heard from. But every now and then, a special player comes through a program and finishes his career right where he started. This player doesn't jump ship when times are tough, nor does he ever think about quitting. This is the type of player who makes a full commitment to his teammates, always gives it his all, and makes sacrifices for the team because that's simply who he is on the court. This player is the type who leaves an impression without even trying.  At UMass Boston, this player is A.J. Titus.

A.J. was no stranger to the UMass Boston Men's Basketball program; in fact, growing up he was an avid fan of the Beacons. It was easy for him to cheer for the Beacon Blue and White because his Father, Charlie Titus, was the team's long time head coach. He watched as his Dad built the program that one day he hoped to become a part of.

That day came on November 19, 2004 when he stepped foot onto the court bearing a Beacons uniform for the first time as a player. It was the start of the point guard's career, it was the start of something special.

"Playing at UMass Boston was a lot of fun, but it was more than just fun," said Titus, "it was a time when I could come out and enjoy playing a game that I loved. While I was here, I tried to make my teammates my family, because to me, that is what they are, family."

During A.J.'s freshman season, he had a chance to get used to the college style of play. He also was able to familiarize himself with the UMass Boston program without the added pressures of playing for his Father. During the 2004-05 season, Charlie Titus was promoted to the position of
Vice Chancellor for Athletics, Recreation & Special Programs and decided to take a leave of absence as head coach so that he could have a smoother transition into the new position.

A.J. admits that, "it was nice not having to worry about playing for him [C. Titus] that first year because I was still adjusting to the college game. I didn't want to have to worry about what people were thinking, I just wanted to play and this gave me the opportunity to do it on my own. It helped me mature as a player"

Charlie rejoined the team for the start of A.J's sophomore campaign, and for the first time, was coaching his son on the basketball floor. That first season together, the father-son combo helped lead the Beacons to its first ever Little East Conference Championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

A.J. recalls that, "from day one of the 2005-06 season, all we talked about was winning the conference tournament. I don't think my Father took us seriously because we'd just graduated two leading scorers from a team that had only won eight games my first year. But the guys believed we could do it, and we all had the same mindset from the beginning. It just goes to show that if you work hard to achieve your goals, anything is possible."

The year following the championship season, A.J. and the rest of the Beacons had high hopes for a repeat. On paper they looked even better than they had been a year before, but early struggles created internal frustration, ultimately becoming a hurdle that the team was never able to clear.

"That's what it's all about, it was a learning experience. It taught us that you can't take anything for granted and that you have to continue to work hard. No matter how good you are or what you think, you can always get better, always," said Titus.

A.J. quickly became known as a team leader on and off the court, always trying to be an example for his teammates. He acknowledges that he is not the most vocal leader you might find playing basketball, but few compare to his enthusiasm for the game. His hard-nosed style of play rubs off on people playing around him and it shows in his younger teammates fighting for minutes, just as he was doing not too long ago.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 marked the final collegiate basketball game of the point guard's memorable career. For the 114th time (a program record), Titus put on his Beacons uniform and led his team to battle. Before the match up against UMass Dartmouth in the LEC quarterfinals, Titus said that no matter the outcome, "I'm going out fighting, that's for sure. I'm going to leave it all on the court."

To anyone that has seen him play, this comes to no surprise. A.J.'s a player who strives to make everyone better while facilitating the action. If that means talking to a freshman with some positive reinforcement after a turnover, or diving on a loose ball to gain possession back for his teammates, A.J.'s your guy.

"It's been nothing but a positive experience for me. My Father has been supportive the whole time as a coach, and on the court it's nothing but business. Out there I was his point guard and although he might have a little higher expectations of me, it forced me to raise the level of my game, and in the end, made me a better player."

A.J. leaves UMass Boston with 361 assists, ranking second on the UMass Boston career list. He connected on 209 free throw attempts which ranks 10th in program history and overall netted 667 career points, but more important than the numbers was the fact that A.J. was always there when you needed him to be, be it as a player, a teammate, or a friend.

As A.J. walked off the court in his final home basketball game, his senior day, he met Coach Titus at the end of the bench, except for that moment; it was not Coach Titus waiting for him, but his Father. The two embraced for a heartfelt hug and Charlie leaned down and whispered in his son's ear, "You had a great career, I'm very proud of you."

Well said Coach, well said.