Notre Dame game, Malaki Branham comparisons highlight Scotty Middleton's Ohio State visit

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Scotty Middleton has checked off two of the top to-do items for Ohio State recruits.

Last winter, the four-star guard playing for Wichita (Kansas) Sunrise Christian took an official visit to see the Buckeyes host Michigan in their final game of the regular season. A sellout crowd of 18,809 filled Value City Arena on March 6, 2022, and the experience left a strong impression on Middleton that helped convince him to commit to coach Chris Holtmann in the 2023 class.

Saturday night, he got another taste of Ohio State athletics. As one of five official visitors, Middleton spent the evening at Ohio Stadium as the football team hosted a top-5 showdown with Notre Dame in front of 106,594 fans.

Not a bad couple of experiences for the future Buckeye.

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“It was amazing,” Middleton said. “The first time I went there, I got to watch Ohio State play Michigan in basketball so the atmosphere was obviously crazy. I got to see the basketball side of everything but I think getting to see really everything that went into this weekend was amazing. Just being around in Columbus, everybody is saying hi to you, everybody is showing love to you so you really got to see how much love everybody shows to you.”

The weekend wasn’t just about the football game. While in Columbus, Middleton was joined on his official visit by what at the time was the rest of Ohio State’s 2023 class – center Austin Parks, forward Devin Royal and guard George Washington III – as well as four-star guard Taison Chatman. Adding to that list, 2023 guard Bronny James, Lebron James’ son, was on hand for an unofficial visit.

The five players on official visits spent time meeting with the coaching staff, watched practice and in Middleton’s case got some feedback on their individual games.

“We watched some video of Malaki (Branham) last year and watched some of his struggles at the start of the year and watched how he stayed the course with everything and eventually became a top-20 draft pick in the NBA draft,” Middleton said. “Coach Holtmann and (associate head coach Jake) Diebler, we sat down and they were honest about some things I need to correct in my game and me just being open to listening and getting better and trying to change it.”

The 6-6, 180-pound Middleton is the No. 39 overall prospect in his class according to the composite database. ESPN ranks him as a five-star prospect and the No. 18 player in the nation. While watching the Buckeyes practice, Middleton said he noticed a few changes that fans could see this season.

“I liked getting to watch practice because they’re kind of changing how they play,” he said. “Last year they were a little slower, so this year they’re playing a little faster. It’s good to watch practice and see little drills and things that I can implement into my game and get ready. I can watch and see where I’ll fit in so I know how I’ll fit in next year and how we’ll fit in next year.”

When he gets to campus, Middleton is expected to team with forward Devin Royal to form a formidable freshman pairing. Middleton said the two were consistently recognized by Ohio State fans anytime they were walking around in public during the weekend.

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Being on campus as a commitment felt different than when he visited as a recruit, Middleton said.

“It definitely did, especially walking around with Devin,” he said. “Everybody was just like, ‘Devin! Devin!’ Then they’d be like, ‘Scotty! Let’s go!’ They just know. I feel like when you’re committed, there’s more love in the way that everybody just wants the best for you and everybody knows you and puts themselves out there to get to know you a little more.”

First-year guard Bruce Thornton was Middleton’s host for the visit, and the future Buckeye said he also got to spend time with first-year forward Brice Sensabaugh and other members of the current team.

When the recruits all headed home, Middleton said he got a phone call from Washington on Sunday evening telling him that he would be de-committing from Ohio State. It came as a surprise, Middleton said.

“Obviously it’s sad for somebody to de-commit and somebody I got really close with like that,” he said. “I didn’t know (that was coming), but it was amazing spending time with him. That’s my guy. When he called me (Sunday) and told me, I said even if he’s not at Ohio State, wherever he goes I’m still gonna support him and show love to him.”

Middleton also spent time with the James family. It wasn’t the first time he’s met LeBron James, but it was still memorable. Bronny James is a four-star prospect ranked No. 41 by 247Sports.

“I spent a short time with him and Bronny,” Middleton said. “I talked to them a little bit about coming to Ohio State, making jokes and laughing with each other a little bit. That was pretty much it. It was definitely crazy. I’ve met LeBron before, but to see him at Ohio State, when I first saw him, my mind went blank. It was like, ‘Wow, LeBron James is here right now, right in front of me.’ It was pretty crazy.”

It was all capped by an experience at the football game that Middleton said will stick with him for a long time.

“It was probably the craziest time of my life, if I‘m being honest,” he said. “Walking with the guys in the Skull Session, being at that was crazy. Being everywhere during that game was just like, wow. Being on the field, watching them run out, seeing the fans just go crazy and everything like that, it was just something you can’t implement anywhere. I think that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see that.”


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