Malaki Branham will go through the NBA draft process this offseason.
Ohio State's star freshman announced on social media Friday that he will declare for the draft after a stellar first year that saw him win the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year honor and be named third-team All-Big Ten by both the conference's coaches and media. However, Branham plans to remain college eligible while testing the draft process as of now.
“I will be testing the draft waters while keeping my college eligibility intact,” Branham told ESPN. “I want to find the best situation and the right fit for me. I am staying in the draft if I’m in the first round because I believe if someone gives me four years to prove myself, I have no doubt that they will love what they’re getting.”
Branham averaged 13.7 points on 49.8 percent shooting and also put up 3.6 rebounds per game for the Buckeyes this past season. In conference play, Branham averaged 16.3 points on 52.3 percent shooting, and in the final 10 games of the year, his scoring average ballooned to 20.2 points at a 56.6 percent clip from the field.
Through the first 10 games of the year, Branham averaged just 6.3 points while shooting 38.8 percent, but his coming out party came after Ohio State's 22-day COVID-19 break through the end of December. On Jan. 2, Branham scored 35 points on 13-for-19 shooting in an overtime win at Nebraska, and the freshman never looked back after that.
Branham had eight 20-point performances in 2021-22, including a 31-point night in a win over Illinois on Feb. 24 and a 23-point effort to lead the Buckeyes in their season-ending loss to Villanova in the NCAA Tournament.
Branham is widely projected to be a first-round pick, although he could still withdraw from the draft process to return for a second season with Ohio State. In recent years Kaleb Wesson and E.J. Liddell have both tested the process before ultimately returning to the program, although Duane Washington remained in the draft last year despite initially being expected to come back to Ohio State.