Dru Joyce needs no introduction to greatness.
In his two decades as St. Vincent-St. Mary's head coach, he's seen plenty of standout basketball players come through his program – most notably among them, LeBron James. Newly minted Ohio State commit Malaki Branham is the latest star to suit up for the Fighting Irish.
The 6-foot-4, 175-pound shooting guard helped St. Vincent-St. Mary win the state championship his freshman season, go 24-4 and reach the state title game as a sophomore and have another successful season as a junior before the 2019-20 campaign got cut short due to the pandemic shutting down sports this spring.
Joyce took some time on Tuesday afternoon to speak with Eleven Warriors to offer insight on Branham. At the time, he said Branham hadn't told him which school he'd be attending. As we learned on Wednesday, Ohio's top prospect will be a Buckeye.
What are your favorite in-game memories of Branham as his coach, and what kind of player is he?
Joyce: What he has become is what most coaches want as far as a scoring player. He's an efficient scorer. He doesn't have to take a lot of shots. He's very efficient. He's going to be 50-60 percent, whether it's from behind the 3-point line or inside the 3-point line. That's what you want from a player. He gets to the free-throw line and he makes free throws. Also, he can make the right past, and defensively, he understands how to use his length to guard small guys and uses quickness to guard bigger guys. He'll play for his coaches.
Branham is a gifted player, but is there one thing he does on the court that's particularly exceptional?
Joyce: I think he can score from all three levels, and his mid-range pull-up jumper just keeps getting better and better. He understands how to create that shot very easily. And with his length, when he pulls up and elevates, it's very hard to defend.
Branham has talked about wanting to improve his 3-point range and efficiency. How have you seen that area of his game progress through the years?
Joyce: Every year, he's gotten better and better, and that's what you look for as far as growth. He just continues to evolve as a player. From a coaching standpoint, that's what you want more than anything is that continued growth. And as he's grown as a player, his confidence has grown. With the success, his confidence continues to grow.
Is there something most people might not notice that is important to understand regarding Branham and how he's gotten to this point?
Joyce: I think he recognizes that it's not all about him. He's a team guy. He understands that's the way we play. We've always had great players here. You've got to be able to play with other great players. The guys that can do that are the ones who usually go the farthest. You know how to have your success and still involve others.
Off the court, how have you seen Branham mature, and what's he like as a person to be with and coach?
Joyce: He's kind of a reserved personality. He's not that boisterous kind of guy. He's reserved to himself. A high-character kid. You don't have to worry about him doing anything that would bring any kind of ill repute to the program or himself.
How have you seen Branham deal with the recruiting process, and how did the relationships develop over the years?
Joyce: He's been a very good listener, and that's what we talk about. And then, you know, there's a difference between someone who wants you and someone who needs you. And then, you still have to kind of be able to sort through, ‘This is where I always wanted to go to school, but maybe they didn't ever recruit him.’ Now, it comes down to these other schools who may not have been at the top of your list but you're at the top of theirs. That's what we've kind of considered, as far as all this is concerned. It's a fit thing. Where does it feel most comfortable? You're going to spend some very formative years in a program, so you've got to be able to make sure that everyone knows how much it means to you. But you've got to be able to communicate that with your new teammates. Sometimes it's a tough fit, but you've got to do the best to make sure that it's the right one for you. And I understand that, hey, in college basketball now the big thing is transfer. If you don't like it, transfer. But I've encouraged him just like he's been here – there's been a bunch of schools that tried to get him to leave here. ‘Hey, stay where you're comfortable and don't listen to all the noise because the grass always looks greener, but a lot of time it isn't.’
Where does Branham fit on the court at the next level to maximize his game?
Joyce: He's a two-guard and hopefully will grow into a combo. A two-one, not a one-two. A two-guard who can slide over and give you a few minutes at the one in a situation, go into that and create.
When you project him at the college level, what type of career do you envision him having?
Joyce: Two or three years to develop him, I think he'll become the guy on wherever he goes. Here at St. Vincent-St. Mary, he's the guy. But it doesn't mean he's just going to be the leading scorer. It means that he's going to be the leader and he's going to lead, and there's a lot of ways to lead. That's what we've tried to help him with over the years, just to understand that, OK, you're not the most vocal guy but that doesn't mean you can't lead. And help him to understand that leading by example can be every bit as powerful as being that vocal leader.