Malaki Branham, Ohio’s top 2021 recruit, commits to Ohio State

Adam Jardy
St. Vincent-St. Mary guard Malaki Branham, center, scrambles for a loose ball between Orange forward Tyler Hoffman and Orange guard Harrison Pyner during the first half of a Division II sectional final at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Akron, Ohio.

Ohio State has landed a verbal commitment from Malaki Branham, the top recruit from Ohio in the class of 2021 and a key priority for coach Chris Holtmann.

Today, Branham posted his commitment to social media after announcing his plans to do so Sunday. The announcement ends the intrigue and speculation around one of the highest-rated and most tight-lipped recruitments in recent history.

A four-star recruit in the composite database, the 6-4, 175-pound Branham never released a list of top schools or favorites. In the final days leading to his decision, Ohio State, Alabama, Xavier, Louisville and Baylor were all widely considered to be his finalists.

Branham is the No. 27 recruit in the nation. He is the highest-rated Ohioan to commit to the Buckeyes since Jared Sullinger, who was the No. 4 overall recruit in the class of 2010. He’s also the first top-rated Ohioan to pick Ohio State since Kaleb Wesson, who was the No. 75 national recruit, in 2017.

With his commitment, Ohio State now has the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, trailing only Baylor.

Branham took an official visit to Ohio State during the weekend of Sept. 7, 2019, at the same time as four-star power forward Efton Reid, a Virginia native who will play at Bradenton (Florida) IMG Academy as a senior. Five-star center Charles Bediako, a native of Canada who will also play at IMG Academy, was on hand for an unofficial visit.

That same weekend, the Buckeyes offered 2022 guard Bowen Hardman from Cincinnati Princeton and classmate Shawn Phillips Jr., a center from Dayton. Hardman has since committed to Ohio State and Phillips remains a top target after transferring to Ypsi Prep Academy in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

While on his official visit, Branham said got to meet with Clark Kellogg, Jim Jackson, Jared Sullinger and other prominent program alumni. While watching film with Holtmann, Branham said the staff showed him clips and discussed comparisons with D’Angelo Russell and former Butler standout Kelan Martin.

Asked afterward what he was looking for in a school, Branham said, “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.”

Branham has long been considered a top priority for Ohio State, both among the coaches and fellow members of the 2021 class. When he committed to the Buckeyes in May of 2019, four-star forward Kalen Etzler from Convoy (Ohio) Crestview said he had two players he wanted to see join him in the class: Meechie Johnson Jr. and Branham. When Johnson committed to Ohio State that August, Etzler tweeted his support and urged Branham to follow suit.

As a junior, Branham was a finalist for Mr. Basketball in Ohio after leading St. Vincent-St. Mary to the regional semifinals before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of the rest of the season. In mid-April, he told The Dispatch that he wasn’t concerned about off-campus recruiting being suspended indefinitely because “I think the schools right now that have been contacting me are the schools that are really interested in me and invested in me and want me to come to their campus.”

At that time, he said he was in no rush to make a decision. You can read the full story here.

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