About this article
This article was originally published in the Feb/March 2016 issue of The Life-400 North, a publication of the Forsyth County News. To read the entire magazine, click here.
For those who live off the east banks of Lake Lanier, the name Mark Causey is still whispered every once in a while with a legendary inflection. Once upon a time, Causey was a budding superstar basketball player in Georgia. The lanky, athletic wing led East Hall High School to a Class AA state championship at the turn of the century and was used to receiving hand-fulls of letters from colleges in the mail on a weekly basis. His name was also familiar around the country in the basketball circuits. Mark’s older brother, Michael, was once a top-five prospect with NBA expectations set as publications touted his name. But Mark made a name of his own, and in his senior season was named the Class AA player of the year in the state.
He was a wanted man — even by Mike Krzyzewski, the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils, who were just coming their third national championship in team history. Krzyzewski wanted Causey as a preferred walk-on, which meant that, as long as his family could foot the bill of out-of-state tuition, Causey could play for the heralded program.
So in 2001, Causey packed his bags to join the Duke Blue Devils. He’d wear No. 45. The legend would begin.
Fifteen years have passed since Causey became a college basketball player.
Now, he wakes up each morning to put on a tightly-pressed pastel button up, brushes his inexplicably white teeth, and heads to work—at the intersection of state roads 306 and 369 in Cumming, Ga., just off the west banks of Lanier.
There, he can make a run to the Publix next to his office to grab lunch without being stopped. He’s tall, but not tall enough for folks to immediately assume he played hoops. He’ll return to his office and scarf down his lunch with numerous degrees behind him. His office doesn’t have a single piece of memorabilia that has anything to do with basketball.
Causey is now in his third year of owning Causey Orthodontics. He’s even opened up two more locations in the Ga. 400 area, and hopes to see his business continue to flourish. He’s entered a new challenge in his life, but with profound humility and focus. He’ll actually get on tangents about “perfecting his practice.”
But if you ask him about his greatest life accomplishment, he’ll pull up a kindergarten yearbook photo he has saved on his computer and point at two faces. One is him. The other is his current wife, Danielle, who clearly had trouble staying still for her photo.
“I call her my kindergarten sweetheart,” Causey says. “I’ve been blessed. I’ve pretty much known my wife for my whole life.”
Even though so much has changed for Causey, he still likes to recollect about his days at Duke. Hanging on the wall in the reception area of his primary office is his actual No. 45 jersey he wore during his freshman season — his only season as a Blue Devil. For patients, the anxiety of having their teeth linked is remedied with SportsCenter playing on a big TV In the work room, and signed posters of Duke greats — Mike Dunleavy, Jay Williams and Carlos Boozer, to name a few — hang on the walls.
If you ask him about it, he’ll tell you all about his time at Duke.
Causey remembers being pranked, being in on pranks, and becoming a fan favorite at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
He remembers his first time ever stepping onto that hallowed floor. “It was actually an exhibition game, if that counts,” Causey said. “I remember being out there and it being overwhelming. Cameron is so loud, it can almost make you nauseous at times. It took me a few minutes to get the jitters out. It’s a different level of loud. But, I got settled in and threw an alley-oop to Casey Sanders and the place erupted.
“That was the night they nicknamed me Kami-Causey, so they’d chant that to get Coach K to put me into games. Whenever he did the place would go bonkers.”
Causey never became more than that beloved bench player, but the stories are fruitful. He takes away so many moments he shared with Coach K, and praises the lessons learned from the legendary coach. He’ll even use himself as an example, in retrospect.
“I remember I got put in a game against Portland, and I wasn’t getting used to getting into games in the first half,” Causey said. “It was on national television, I was a little anxious, and Coach kept having to call my name to get my attention. The next day we watched film, and he ran a clip of me checking into the game with my shirt un-tucked. It was kind of embarrassing.
“But it was all about attention to detail and preparation. We spent as much time in the film room as we did on the court a lot of times. Not only studying our opponents, but studying ourselves. We’d have to constantly re-asses how we were doing. I’m constantly trying to evaluate what I do every day as an orthodontist, and how I can do better. When you play for Coach K, attention to detail is everything.”
Causey played 12 games for the Blue Devils, logging 47 total minutes and scoring 13 points. Duke, heavily favored all season, ended up losing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament to Indiana. Their nemesis, Maryland, ended up winning the whole thing.
After that, Causey made the business decision to return home and play for North Georgia College and State University (now simply known as North Georgia). He would have ankle surgery, but eventually finish his career with the Saints as one of their top players. His younger brother, Matt, also made a surprising move to North Georgia to play with him after logging minutes at Georgetown. Matt would then transfer out of North Georgia to Georgia Tech to finish his career.
When Causey returned home to play with his brother, he also reconnected with Danielle, saved some money, had a significant role in the game he loved and was focused on his life after basketball. He regrets nothing.
“You tend not to think about it when you’re in the moment and playing. It’s later that you realize basketball might not be something you get to do for the rest of your life, so appreciate it while you can,” Causey said. “What I miss is the camaraderie you get with your teammates, the brotherhood you build. You get accustomed to so much about basketball. It’s your lifestyle. But I try to mentor young people as much as I can, to think about life outside of basketball. It won’t last forever.”
When Causey decided to open his orthodontics office, he decided to make a call to Coach K — it was a shot-in-the-dark phone call: he was looking for his old jersey.
Soon after, the jersey was delivered to his office.
Coach K makes a point to keep a jersey of every single player. Even the preferred walk-ons. Even the goofy ones.
“If you’ve heard weird stories about me at Duke, they’re probably true,” Causey laughed. As professional as he is, there’s a history of being the notorious prankster of the Duke team in 2001 — ambitious, for a freshman.
Causey’s reputation caught up with him on a bus ride back from Charlotte. He says, through word-of-mouth, that he missed one of Coach K’s all-time best speeches as the team prepared to get off the bus back in Durham, N.C.
Causey missed the entire speech because he was stuck in the bus bathroom, on the toilet.
“That’s a true story,” Causey said. “I went to the bathroom in our charter bus, and Carlos Boozer was sitting by the door. We were about 45 minutes away and he put his foot out and jammed the door shut, so I sat with the seat down for the rest of the ride. Coach gave this amazing, compelling speech and he had no idea I was missing the whole thing.
“When you’re a freshman anywhere, it’s hard, but Boozer and I were good friends.”