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Breaking: Malaki Branham to remain in NBA Draft, ending Ohio State career

The 2022 Big Ten Freshman of the Year is a projected first-round pick in this year’s draft.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 20 Div I Men’s Championship - Second Round - Ohio State v Villanova Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following a standout freshman year at Ohio State that saw him average 15.7 points per game in Big Ten play and 13.7 points per game overall, 2022 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Malaki Branham announced today that he plans on staying in the 2022 NBA Draft, ending his career at Ohio State after one season.

Yesterday afternoon Ohio State announced that Branham and head coach Chris Holtmann would hold a brief press conference at the Schottenstein Center today at 1:00, where Branham would share his intentions for the upcoming season. He confirmed with the media and all those in attendance that he will indeed be staying in the draft, set to take place on June 23 in New York.

There is a deadline of June 1 to inform the NBA if a player plans on returning to school or not, but based on feedback of his game and projections, Branham made up his mind about four weeks early. When he entered the draft on April 1, he told ESPN that if he was informed that he’d be a first-round pick, he would not be returning to school. As of today, every single mock draft available (ESPN, CBS, the Athletic, the Ringer, Tankathon, etc.) have Branham being taken somewhere between picks 10 and 26 in the first round. Just yesterday, CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish projected Branham at No. 14 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The No. 38 player in the 2021 recruiting cycle and a four-star recruit, Branham was not expected to be Holtmann’s first one-and-done player when the season began. In fact, he didn’t even begin the season in the starting lineup. But at 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds, Branham checks a ton of boxes NBA teams are looking at when evaluating potential draftees. He is long, athletic, quick, and explosive. He can score at all three levels, knocking down 41.6% of his threes as a freshman this season. Branham cooks in the mid-range, making defenders pay dearly if they allow him to dribble to the elbow and pull up from that 10-12 foot range.

Branham will need to put on more muscle and get stronger if he wants to become a capable defender at the NBA level. He is easily bumped by larger, more physical players, but that was somewhat expected as an 18-year old freshman in the Big Ten. Teams also love the fact that Branham won’t be 19 until a few weeks before the draft. An older player — say, 21 years old — with Branham’s skillset may not be a first round pick. But NBA teams draft just as much on potential as anything else, and there’s infinite potential in Branham’s game after just one year in college.

Ohio State has clearly began constructing Team 124’s roster with Branham’s departure in mind. They have already added Tanner Holden (Wright State) and Sean McNeil (West Virginia) via transfer — two players who primarily play at the shooting guard or small forward positions. Holtmann was also able to get Justice Sueing to return for a sixth season after missing all but two games last season with an abdominal injury. The Buckeyes would have welcomed Branham back with open arms, but it certainly would’ve created a logjam in a few spots with how the coaching staff has molded this year’s roster thus far.

Good luck to Malaki in the draft and in the league! We’ll always be rooting for you here at Land-Grant Holy Land.