Full Court Press: Malaki Branham To Announce Commitment On Wednesday, Ohio State Talking To Josiah Harris And Sean Jones, Meechie Johnson Rises

By Colin Hass-Hill on July 20, 2020 at 8:36 am
Malaki Branham

Welcome to the Full Court Press, your destination for Ohio State basketball recruiting updates.

In two days, the world will learn where the top target on Ohio State’s recruiting board for over a year is heading.

Soon after telling Eleven Warriors he’s “very close” to making a commitment and already knows where he’ll end up, four-star shooting guard Malaki Branham took to Twitter on Sunday evening to say he’ll make his college announcement public at 2:22 p.m. on Wednesday. The Buckeyes are vying with Xavier, Louisville and Alabama for his pledge.

Throughout the entire process, Branham has been able to keep much of his recruitment under wraps, despite being the No. 27 overall recruit and top-rated Ohioan in the 2021 cycle. Ohio State, along with the rest of the schools in consideration, has struggled to get a clear read on where exactly it stands, which has led to a nerve-wracking past few days as it became clear that a decision was coming closer. Branham has remained tight-lipped with his eventual selection.

Right now, though, it’s fair to view the Buckeyes as the favorite for the St. Vincent-St. Mary rising senior.

They’ve been recruiting him for nearly three years, with head coach Chris Holtmann and assistant coach Ryan Pedon building a long-standing relationship with him. Branham said he has grown “a trust” with them. They told him they intend to throw him into “the fire as a freshman,” which he noted as a positive.

The 6-foot-4, 175-pound shooting guard would be an optimal complement to point guard Meechie Johnson in the 2021 backcourt. They’re both prolific scorers with developing games who can score at multiple levels.

It’s been difficult for the Buckeyes to remain patient throughout the process, but they won’t have to wait much longer. One way or another, it’ll come to an end on Wednesday afternoon.

Staying Safe, Staying Active

Josiah Harris, a Richmond Heights small forward, has developed a daily routine over the past few months that he sticks to.

He and his dad wake up around 5:30 or 6 a.m. and head to the track where they get a workout in featuring resistance bands. They’ll run a couple of miles then go back to the house to grab breakfast before his dad works. Harris then rides his bike during the day before going to a court around 5 p.m. with his dad to work on his shot, handle or jab series. He also uses his family’s newly purchased bench press since college coaches have wanted him to get stronger.

“He pushes me. I love it,” Harris told Eleven Warriors. “He was a point guard. He played at the college level (at Point Park University). What people don't realize is my mom also played at the college level. That's where they met. My mom was a big man in college. My dad was a point guard. So I get the best of both worlds. That how my game is, it's versatile. My mom teaches me the post moves and my dad teaches me the guard work, so I love it.”

What Harris hasn’t been able to do, however, is get back to playing five-on-five basketball. His family has made the decision to keep him away from others during the coronavirus pandemic, wanting to keep everybody healthy.

Ohio State’s coaches, who offered Harris a scholarship on May 5, have remained in contact with him throughout the waiting period.

“The one thing I respect the most about them and the coaching staff is that they respect me and my family's decision about not going out to play this summer, and they understood and they realized and they took into consideration what we were doing,” Harris said. “They're hard-working coaches. It's a family atmosphere with them. They call every day, check up on me. It's really bigger than basketball.”

Holtmann and assistant coach Jake Diebler have taken the lead in Harris’ recruitment. The 6-foot-7 forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan said they’ve “been as active as can be,” calling their interest in him “amazing.” 

Harris said he can understand why some people might view the Buckeyes as the clear favorite since they’re a local program he’s intimately familiar with, but he notes he’s looking for “what's the best fit.” 

He said Ohio State, Kansas State and West Virginia are talking to him the most. All three schools have offered him scholarships. Michigan. Louisville, Dayton, Xavier, Appalachian State and Virginia Tech haven’t extended offers yet, but they’re in contact, too.

“What I've learned is I can't settle down when all these colleges are coming because it's an amazing feeling, but just in the blink of an eye they can stop,” Harris said. “You've got to keep working on your game. You can't be thinking too much of yourself. You've got to stay humble, keep your head level and just keep grinding because you've got to do what you did to get you to this point to get even better.”

Since “everything’s open now,” Harris is in no rush. Well, at least he’s in no rush in regard to his recruitment. 

He’d like to be in a rush to get back to playing basketball games, if the coronavirus spread slows and allows him to return.

“I don't really know when I can get back on, but when I do, I'm not taking this game for granted ever,” Harris said. “I see how long I've been from it. I've been fiending for it. I'm releasing the beast. It's about to be something crazy. I'm not playing around.”

In The Loop

Sean Jones hadn’t ever experienced quite as long of a layoff from basketball before. It’s been “a struggle” logistically to get the work he wants in, he said, considering how many of his friends at Gahanna Lincoln haven’t wanted to work out as much due to the coronavirus. Yet, he managed to stay on a somewhat consistent schedule, saying he “had to make it happen.”

So when he got back onto the court this weekend in Lorain, he had a few things he wanted to showcase.

“I just want to show I've improved as a leader and improved in the eye test,” Jones told Eleven Warriors. “Stuff coaches notice first about you. I've always been able to get to the cup and shoot, so just working on stuff to make me set apart from other good players.”

The eye test, as Jones calls it, is especially important. Last year at this time, he was 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds. Now, he says, he’s up to 5-foot-10.5 and 170 pounds.

“As you can see, I'm not really getting bodied at all,” Jones said. “People just bouncing off of me. So, now I can guard anybody on the court, for real. I have no problem guarding the post for a few seconds. They're not going to move me that much. Then I got way stronger. Way more physical.”

Jones, an unranked 2022 point guard, already holds more than a dozen scholarship offers, many of which he earned in the aftermath of a standout sophomore season. He’s a known name among mid-major programs, and his skillset has him trending toward more major conference teams. Mississippi State, Xavier, Wichita State and VCU have already offered him, and several national programs – including Ohio State – have kept in close contact with him.

He said he gets the most calls from Ohio State, Xavier and VCU and the most text messages from Purdue, Virginia and Iowa.

As of now, Holtmann’s staff hasn’t extended a scholarship offer, though it knows all about Jones given where he's located. The coaches had hoped to get an in-person evaluation of Jones, along with point guards such as Paul McMillan and DJ Moore. But they haven’t been able to do so yet, and thus they haven’t offered a scholarship.

“(Getting an offer from Ohio State is) not really a subject,” Jones said. “Always talk about building a relationship. They'll call up to tell me, like, if someone posts an offer from there and it's not real. They'll do stuff like that. They just call me to check in and let me know, stuff like that.”

As a rising junior, Jones' recruitment isn't ending soon.

“I haven't started thinking about committing yet,” Jones said. “I'm just working on my game, getting better and just going with the flow right now.”

Meechie Johnson 2.0

At first, it was reasonable to wonder how much of new-look Meechie Johnson’s stellar play was due to the competition level. In his first competitive five-on-five games back since suffering a torn ACL 18 months prior, Johnson thrived. But those June games were against overmatched opponents.

After seeing him show out consistently for a month, those concerns are gone. Long gone.

Johnson, who committed to Ohio State 10 months ago, was named the 2020 Brawl For The Ball 17U Senior-To-Be MVP on Sunday soon after leading the Indy Heat to a title. Playing alongside fellow commit Kalen Etzler, Johnson looked like someone who could push for five-star status by the time he graduates from Garfield Heights High School. 

Immediately, he passes the eye test. As one Ohio State coach told Eleven Warriors, Johnson “looks like a man” at his position. He added a few inches, sprouting to 6-foot-3 while filling out a frame that has clearly added muscle over the past year and a half. He’s more explosive than he was before, retained his deft shooting touch, has shown a willingness to defend and took command of a talent-rich team. Johnson hit a game-winning layup in transition on Sunday morning to break a tie and send his team to the championship game, too.

Want to see one heck of a prediction? Throw it back to his comments just a couple of days after committing to Ohio State.

“When I come back, I plan on being a top-20, top-15 player in the country,” Johnson told Eleven Warriors in August 2019. “I know that I'm going to come after every single guard, everybody they have ranked over me. I'm going to grow some more inches. I'm going to get stronger. I'm going to get faster. All I can do right now is shoot, so my shot will be something you haven't seen before.”

Just about everything he projected has come true. The rankings will be next to change.

Given his recent history with an ACL injury, staying healthy will be as important as anything. But the Buckeyes look to have something special with Johnson already in the fold.

Now, imagine if they can pair him to Branham.

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