Basketball

Freshman Malaki Branham Adjusting To Ohio State, Setting Goals

Last year’s Ohio’s Mr. Basketball Award winner Malaki Branham made a name for himself at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School up in Akron.

Nationally, Branham was known for his sharp shooting and versatile skills on both sides of the court. He has been well known around the state for years now, and is hoping to enhance his skill set with a talented and deep Buckeyes squad.

The Buckeyes earned the #2 seed in last year’s NCAA postseason tournament but were upset by #15 seed Oral Roberts in the first round. Also, losing their top scorer Duane Washington Jr. to the NBA draft was a tough pill to swallow.

However, the Buckeyes landed three big-time transfers in Joey Brunk, Cedric Russell, and Jamari Wheeler and added Kalen Etzler along with Branham in the past recruiting class.

Branham has had to adjust to college life, and now playing for a Big Ten school compared to a high school program is never an easy task.

“I feel like I have been adjusting pretty well,” Branham said at OSU’s recent basketball media day. “You have your schedule with your classes and you have to get your homework done and you have practice too.”

Branham has been enjoying his time at Ohio State and is happy with his decision to come to play for coach Chris Holtmann and his staff.

“Everybody here is just cool,’ Branham said. “They are all good people. That’s why I love this program and this team. I clicked with everybody. My first week here, I was figuring out how to adjust. Ever since then, it’s been good. My teammates talk to me and ask if there is anything I need.”

This upcoming season Branham was granted permission from Ohio State all-time great Jim Jackson to wear his famed number 22. Branham knows there is a legacy, but does not feel pressured.

“It’s no pressure at all,” Branham said. “I know what I can do on the court. My teammates will help put me in good spots and also my coaches. They will help me to play at my highest.”

Branham was a four-star player and averaged 21.3 points in his senior year of high school and led his team to a 25-2 record. Those numbers came against the top teams in the state and the top teams around the country.

Buckeye fans can expect the talented freshman to contribute this year at shooting guard or a small forward position. Branham talked about his improvement over the summer and how he has developed.

“Just shooting the ball consistently and getting a faster release on it and being ready to catch and shoot or get downhill,” he said.

“I was a playmaker in high school a little bit last year. I just have to get my handle tighter and then on ball screens see if they are hedging it or trapping it and making the right extra pass. That comes with reps in practice. I feel like I can be a playmaker.”

Branham will complement E.J. Liddell, the Buckeyes’ top returner, who is also picked by many as a pre-season All-American.

“I talk to him a lot about that,” Branham said. “I want to be in his position and be an All-American. He just said, ‘Keep being consistent and keep working. Everything will fall in line.’ ”

Branham and his teammates also have their sights on some hardware to showoff in their practice facility.

“We want to get a Big Ten championship,” Branham said. “That’s always the goal. We want to win a national championship. To do that, we have to stay focused and grind and do what we have to do.”

The Buckeyes opened up their first official practice for the 2021-2022 season as Branham and the Buckeyes look to November for their season opener against Akron.