After just one season of college basketball, Malaki Branham is a first-round NBA draft pick.
The 19-year-old former Ohio State guard heard his name called on stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, as the San Antonio Spurs selected him with the 20th overall pick. Branham can now stake his claim as the first Ohio State player to be selected in the first round since D’Angelo Russell in 2015.
"He's got a high ceiling as a player. He's just tapping into what he can be, and I think that's what people see at 19 from Malaki," Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann told 97.1 The Fan Thursday.
Branham averaged 13.7 points and 3.6 boards while shooting 49.8 percent from the floor and 41.6 percent from 3-point range during his first and only season with the Buckeyes, and his play earned him a nod as both the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a third-team All-Big Ten honoree.
The Columbus native and St. Vincent-St. Mary High School product didn’t get off to a red hot start at the college level, as Branham averaged just 6.3 points per game on 38.8 percent shooting through his first 10 games in the 2021-22 season. But after a near month-long layoff due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Buckeye program, Branham returned with a 35-point breakthrough performance on the road against Nebraska that changed the trajectory of his season.
Including that showcase effort, Branham averaged 17 points per game through the final 22 games of the season for Ohio State. Branham took things up another notch in the Buckeyes’ last 10 games, in which he averaged 20.2 points per game on 56.6 percent shooting to cap off a phenomenal freshman campaign.
Illinois head coach Brad Underwood praised Branham as the best player in the Big Ten following a 31-point performance in a road win over the Illini late in the regular season, and by that point it was clear Branham might not be coming back for a second year in Columbus.
Branham announced he would test the NBA draft process on April 1, but didn’t officially declare his intentions to leave college basketball behind until April 27. Two months later, Branham is an NBA draftee, becoming the fourth Buckeye to be selected in the first round since 2010.
“I really don’t know. It’s a lot of emotion right now, I’m just trying to take it all in," Branham said in an interview on ABC. "I’m super excited. It’s a dream come true.”
Branham joins fellow former Ohio State player Keita Bates-Diop on the Spurs’ roster. Branham was the only Buckeye selected in the first round of this year’s NBA draft, as E.J. Liddell fell into the second round.