Chris Holtmann's persistence has paid off.
For nearly three years, he and his Ohio State staff chased Malaki Branham, and on Wednesday afternoon, the four-star shooting guard ended his recruitment by announcing a momentous commitment to play for the Buckeyes.
Branham, a Columbus native who has lived in Akron since beginning high school, chose the Buckeyes over offers from Marquette, Pittsburgh, Baylor, Wake Forest, Florida, Cincinnati, Iowa and others. Louisville and Xavier were among the schools going after him the hardest before falling short in their pursuit, and Alabama made a late push.
The St. Vincent-St. Mary rising senior becomes the third Ohioan to join an in-state-heavy 2021 class that already features four-star combo guard Meechie Johnson of Garfield Heights and four-star power forward Kalen Etzler of Convoy Crestview. Branham, ranked as the No. 1 player from the state in the cycle, is Holtmann's top-rated pledge ever as a head coach.
The Branham File
- Class: 2021
- Size: 6-foot-4, 175 pounds
- Pos: SG
- School: St. Vincent-St. Mary
- Composite Rating: ★★★★
- Composite Rank: No. 27 (overall)
Ohio State now has the Big Ten's top-rated 2021 recruiting class and the second-ranked class in the nation.
A 6-foot-4, 175-pound shooting guard known for his ability to get to the rim and score off the bounce, Branham is rated as the No. 27 overall prospect and fifth-best shooting guard in the cycle. He's a high-end four-star prospect on the verge of five-star status who – along with Johnson – gives the Buckeyes a pair of high-powered scoring guards in the 2021 cycle.
Ohio State, with Holtmann and assistant coach Ryan Pedon leading the charge, was the first major conference school to offer him a scholarship, pulling the trigger in May 2019 amid Branham's blow-up on the national scene.
“I was just smiling,” Branham told Eleven Warriors at the time. “I was so happy. I was happy for my family.”
As the undisputed No. 1 priority for the Buckeyes' for over a year, Branham has taken several visits to Columbus – though he hasn't been back to campus to see Holtmann and his staff since the NCAA suspended recruiting in March.
He went on an official visit to Ohio State on Oct. 5, showing up on the sideline ahead of the football team's game versus Michigan State with Holtmann, his coaching staff and other recruits. Branham also watched the basketball team's Feb. 23 win against Maryland from behind the Buckeyes' bench, sitting with Etzler, Johnson and recent Baylor commit Kendall Brown.
Ohio State's coaches also got multiple first-hand looks at him, including when Holtmann and Pedon showed up to sit front and center at St. Vincent-St. Mary's Dec. 14 tilt with Sierra Canyon at Nationwide Arena.
“I've definitely grown a relationship with them and a trust with them, so it's definitely good,” Branham said last week.
|NAME||POSITION||OVERALL RANKING||POSITION RANKING||DATE OF COMMITMENT|
|KALEN ETZLER||PF||No. 90||No. 20||MAY 12, 2019|
|MEECHIE JOHNSON||CG||No. 89||No. 6||AUG. 13, 2019|
|MALAKI BRANHAM||SG||No. 27||No. 5||JULY 22, 2020|
Even beyond Ohio State's coaching staff, Branham was the top target of both Etzler and Johnson shortly after each of them committed. Etzler, especially, did his best to stay in consistent communication with their top target.
“I try to mention to him, the reason I committed to Ohio State, it's a hometown thing,” Etzler told Eleven Warriors in June. “I grew up around Ohio State, and as soon as I got that offer, it's the most comfortable thing to do. I grew up wearing Ohio State on my shirt. Whenever I'm playing basketball, it's most comfortable for me when I'm playing home games, you know. It's kind of the same aspect – I'm going to Ohio State and I'm going to play for my home team.
“I guess it's just a comfortability thing with me, and I hope it's the same for him. It was easy for me to make my decision, so hopefully he comes around, too.”
It wasn't as quick of a process for Branham. He needed well over 365 more days than Etzler for his recruitment to reach its conclusion. Finally, over the weekend, he told Eleven Warriors he was "very close" to making a commitment. Less than a week later, he made good on that promise.
Ohio State remained patient and was rewarded with a pivotal pledge on Wednesday afternoon.