basketball Edit

What the San Antonio Spurs are getting in Ohio State SG Malaki Branham

Ohio State hasn’t had a freshman like Malaki Branham since the last time the program had a first-round selection.

In the 2014-15 season, freshman guard D’Angelo Russell tore it up in the Big Ten for the Buckeyes, averaging 19.3 points per game, shooting 44.9% from the field and 41.1% from3, while bringing in 5.7 rebounds and five assists per game, leading to him being selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

That success came immediately for Russell, recording a 32-point performance against Sacred Heart in his third game in an Ohio State uniform. It was a level of success that was more gradual for Branham.

But it was development that made Branham Ohio State’s first one-and-done first-round selection since Russell in 2015, being selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft Thursday.

Branham will join former Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop in San Antonio, the last Buckeye player to be drafted in 2018.

Branham is the 26th player in school history to be selected in the first round.

How Malaki Branham became a first-round pick 

Branham showed spurts of what he could be before he broke out on the road against Nebraska.

In 19 minutes of playing time against Duke, the Ohio State freshman shooting guard made four of his six attempts from the field, grabbing two boards and one assist. Less than a week later, on the road against Penn State, that offensive prowess reared its head again, making five of his nine attempts from the field with a rebound and two assists.

Branham was getting more and more comfortable. But Wisconsin still put him in his place: no points on only two shot attempts, two rebounds, a foul and four turnovers in 14 minutes of what ended up being a sizable win for the Buckeyes.

That Wisconsin performance was about as much of a “freshman wall” as Ohio State was going to see out of Branham.

For the rest of the season, Branham was dominant, shooting over 50% from the field and averaging 17 points per game in 19 Big Ten games and two NCAA Tournament games against Loyola Chicago and Villanova.

Branham became for Ohio State what he wants to be for the X at the next level.

“Just being a guy that can go out there and get a bucket, but also lead the team and help them do whatever they need to do,” Branham said.

It’s something Ohio State needed from Branham desperately as soon as he arrived.

The four-star guard out of St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, who was offered by Alabama, Iowa, Wisconsin, Xavier and many others, was forced into the starting lineup after what proved to be season-long injuries for both of the Buckeyes’ wings: Justice Sueing and Seth Towns. With it came a distinct lack of depth, thrusting a freshman into starter’s minutes from his very first game against Akron.

Once the calendar turned to January, Branham became that level of player Ohio State needed him to be, the one that became the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, third-team All-Big Ten — the first freshman at Ohio State to earn All-Big Ten honors since Russell — and the Kyle Macy Award winner, given to the best freshman in Division 1.

Branham also turned into the player head coach Chris Holtmann soon found that he would have to replace.

“We understand the hit of losing a player of this caliber, in some ways, does to our roster. That’s reality,” Holtmann said. “And you don’t plan for it. In our minds, we planned on him coming back as certainly leading the charge as a sophomore, but he progressed in a phenomenal way and I’m thrilled for it. There’s a bittersweet element to it, but it’s much more sweet than bitter.”