Malaki Branham, a four-star prospect in the class of 2021, took an official visit to Ohio State during the weekend. He discusses how it went and what is next for him in this exclusive Dispatch interview.

Ever since they each committed to Ohio State, Ohioans Kalen Etzler and Meechie Johnson Jr. have been lobbying for Malaki Branham to join them for the class of 2021.

Branham, a four-star combo guard from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, isn’t planning to make a decision anytime soon. But this past weekend, he spent a few days on campus on an official visit to Ohio State and told The Dispatch that it was a good weekend filled with encounters with Buckeyes both past and present.

It started Friday night, when Ohio State held its annual alumni dinner.

“That was good,” he said. “It’s a family atmosphere; you can always come back to Ohio State and be with your brothers that you played with. (I met) Jared Sullinger, Clark Kellogg, Jim Jackson and then I talked to one of the St. V alums, Curtis Wilson. Before I came down here he talked to our team before open gym, how St. V is a great place and all that stuff.”

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The evening also included a photoshoot and meeting with coach Chris Holtmann, which led into a Saturday that included watching the current team practice, a campus tour and the night’s football game against Michigan State at Ohio Stadium. He wasn't alone for the weekend: several other recruits were on campus for official and unofficial visits, and two other Ohioans, Bowen Hardman and Shawn Phillips, landed scholarship offers for the class of 2022.

Sunday included another meeting with Holtmann, one in which the coach showed him clips of a few big guards who have had strong collegiate careers.

“(The coaches) were really talking about how I will fit in their system and the kind of players who play like me or who I will play like,” Branham said. “They compared me to when coach Holtmann coached at Butler, Kelan Martin, the plays and stuff that he did. Then we watched a little D’Angelo Russell highlights, just with the ball in pick-and-rolls. They said I’m going to be in a lot of pick-and-roll actions and coach Holtmann said, ‘You have a great feel for the game and I think the ball should be in your hands.’

“That was good to hear.”

Branham is listed at 6 feet 4, 175 pounds according to 247Sports.com. He is the No. 25 recruit in the nation, the top prospect from Ohio and the No. 3 combo guard in the country.

Freshman wing Alonzo Gaffney, a northeast Ohio native, was Branham’s primary contact while on campus.

“I think he’s going to have a good year,” Branham said. “I played against him my freshman year, so I knew who he was. That’s the only person I really knew and talked to a lot, but I talked to all the players. Kaleb Wesson, I watched him when I was in eighth grade and he was a senior in high school.”

The Buckeyes started recruiting Branham at the beginning of his sophomore year, he said, and the attention picked up after a strong spring and summer of AAU basketball. In addition to Ohio State, Akron, Cincinnati, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri have all offered scholarships.

After Etzler committed to the Buckeyes, he discussed his hope of getting Branham, Johnson and others to join him. Then when Johnson committed, Etzler quickly got in touch with Branham to make sure he knew the news.

“I know Kalen more than I know Meechie,” Branham said. “We played in Atlanta and ever since then we’ve been talking back and forth. He was pumped that I was at Ohio State this weekend. Me and Meechie, I knew of him since like eighth grade but I started talking to him probably the beginning of sophomore year.”

At the moment, Branham said he has no further official visits planned and that he’s not in any hurry to make a commitment. The plan is to sit down with his family, evaluate things as they happen and enjoy the process.

When it’s time to pick a school, Branham said he knows what he’s looking for.

“I really just want the coaches to believe in me and know what I can do, play big minutes as a freshman in college and also the family atmosphere and a good education, because I’m definitely trying to get my degree,” he said.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy