The next player in the Land-Grant Holy Land player preview series is the second incoming freshman that will enter the Ohio State basketball program this season: Malaki Branham.
Branham is a 6foot-5, 180-pound combo guard and is the highest ranked recruit in the Chris Holtmann era in Columbus. Branham was ranked 34th in the 2021 recruiting class according to 247 Sports’ composite rating. He was the top-ranked player in Ohio and the seventh rated guard in the class.
The previously highest ranked recruit in the Holtmann era was DJ Carton, who was ranked 35th. Carton played one year and then transferred to Marquette and is now testing the NBA Draft waters.
The last recruit Ohio State brought in that was ranked higher than Branham was D’Angelo Russell, who ended up being a one-and-done for the Buckeyes before getting drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers; Russell currently plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kieta Bates-Diop was also ranked higher and was in the same class as Russell. Bates-Diop went on to win Big Ten Player of the Year in 2017-2018 and currently plays for the San Antonio Spurs.
Not bad company for Branham to be in.
Branham is the first Ohio Mr. Basketball to head to Ohio State since Kaleb Wesson in 2017; the 2018 winner Dane Goodwin committed to Ohio State but decommitted after Thad Matta left and ultimately went to Notre Dame. Branham is the 10th individual signee to win this award and head to Ohio State.
WHAT HE HAS DONE: Branham was well deserving of his Mr. Basketball award after his senior season at St Vincent-St Mary High School. Branham capped off his career with just over 1,500 points and led the Irish to two state titles.
Branham averaged 21.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game during his senior campaign. He made a name for himself as one of the top scorers in the state and will look to keep that momentum going once he gets to Columbus.
Even if Branham doesn’t start (check out Connor’s linked article above), he will look to bring that scoring prowess to the team immediately and help take the scoring load off of E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr., assuming that they both decide to return to the program after entering the NBA draft.
WHAT’S NEXT: Similar to fellow freshman Kalen Etzler, it will be interesting to see what role Branham is able to carve out during his first season at Ohio State, especially if Washington returns. The one thing that can be guaranteed, however, is that Holtmann and his staff will want to get him in the rotation early.
You can never have enough scoring in the lineup and putting the orange, round ball in the hoop is a Malaki Branham special.
PROJECTED ROLE: A lot of Branham’s role will be determined in late June or early July when we hear from Washington about his future plans.
If the veteran guard returns to Columbus, there will likely be little no room for Branham to start in the backcourt with Washington, Jamari Wheeler, Meechie Johnson, and Jimmy Sotos all vying for playing time. In this scenario, Branham will likely be one of the first guys off of the bench.
However, if Washington surprises Buckeye Nation and keeps his name in the draft, it will be interesting to see who gets the starting nod at guard. Johnson saw his ball handling duties increase as the last season progressed, following his arrival on campus in January. Wheeler is a known commodity in the Big Ten, and one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, so one would have to assume that Holtmann brought him in with the intention to have him help revitalize the sub-standard perimeter defense from last year. And while he didn’t get much court time last season, Sotos should be healthy in time for the season to start, so without Washington, Holtmann’s guard rotation will be an interesting mix of veterans with little Ohio State experience and young guys looking to make a mark on the program.
Regardless of if he starts or not, I would look for Branham to play around 15-20 minutes per game to start the season, and then depending on the teams outlook, that number could rise if he is overachieving early.
No matter what the case is, Malaki Branham should have Ohio State fans extremely excited to watch.