INDIANAPOLIS – Malaki Branham’s recruitment is winding down.
The long-time top Ohio State target told Eleven Warriors on Saturday that he’s nearing the moment when he’ll make a decision about which college to attend. He says he doesn’t know the exact date he’ll end the process, noting it will “probably” be in a week but he could take up to a month to make an announcement.
Perhaps most notably, he says he already knows where he’ll end up.
“I'm very close actually,” Branham said to Eleven Warriors on Saturday after playing a game at the Pangos Terrific 24. “I don't know when I'm going to commit. I just know I'm very close to ending this process and committing to a school. I'm very close, though.”
If Branham wanted, he could wait until later this year, holding out hope that he can take visits – since he hasn't been able to do so since March. So, why is he ready to commit now?
“Really just this pandemic just told me a lot,” Branham said. “Just really the schools that've been reaching out, that's been the schools that have been really interested in me. Look, I ain't got to worry about the Dukes and the North Carolinas. The people that believe in me and as a player believe in me, I should just focus on them.”
Ohio State has been after Branham for more than 2 1/2 years, having seen enough to offer him a scholarship in May 2019 and subsequently ramp up its pursuit. It’s been no secret that the Columbus native who plays for St. Vincent-St. Mary has been Chris Holtmann’s top 2021 target for the past year. The 6-foot-4, 175-pound shooting guard ranked No. 27 overall is viewed by the coaching staff as a highly skilled guard with an ever-expanding arsenal who’d fit well next to commit Meechie Johnson.
However, the Buckeyes still do not know whether he’ll end up playing for them or going elsewhere, per a source. Several other schools, including Xavier and Louisville, have pursued him for a long time, and others like Alabama are in the mix, too.
When asked which schools’ coaches have kept in the closest contact with him over the past few months, Branham said, “Coach Holtmann, coach (Travis) Steele from Xavier. I talk to the whole Xavier staff, whole Ohio State staff. Missouri, Louisville, Iowa. I missed a couple, though. Those are the biggest ones, for sure.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Branham hasn’t had a typical recruitment in the past couple of months. As a rising senior, this summer would likely be when he piles up offers. He said he believes the blue bloods would have come after him after seeing him on the Nike EYBL circuit. Since that got canceled and he only just returned to playing five-on-five this weekend, the same schools that have been with him for a while remain his top options.
Playing early in his career will factor into his eventual commitment.
“Me going to college, I need to really get throw in the fire as a freshman,” Branham said, explaining the factors he has been weighing. “The coaching staff believes in me. I want to play guard. That's where I'm going to make my money at in the NBA if I go, hopefully. Probably that and just having trust with the coaching staff that they believe in me, I believe in them and they're going to do right by me.”
For Ohio State, early playing time is a clear selling point.
CJ Walker and Abel Porter will run out of eligibility after the 2020-21 season, leaving rising seniors Duane Washington Jr. and Jimmy Sotos as the only guards on the roster – with Eugene Brown III able to serve as an off-ball shooting guard at times. Along with Johnson, Branham would immediately factor into the Buckeyes’ backcourt plans as a freshman. He said Holtmann and his coaches – including Ryan Pedon, his lead recruiter – have told him they’d throw him “in the fire as a freshman.”
He said his relationship with Holtmann and Pedon has “been good.”
“I've definitely grown a relationship with them and a trust with them, so it's definitely good,” Branham said.
Xavier, he notes, has also been after him for over two years, too.
“I know the college coaches that's been recruiting me since Day 1 and believe in my talents,” Branham said. “Just them, I'm focusing on them. Then just going to decide from there.”
If Branham opts to go somewhere else, the Buckeyes have a list of guards they’d turn to. But that’s not their goal.
As Branham’s recruitment winds down, Ohio State is focused on closing on the top in-state 2021 prospect. One way or another, they’ll know where he ends up shortly.