For the first time in 15 years, more than one Buckeye was selected in the NBA draft on Thursday.
Both Malaki Branham (No. 20 overall to the San Antonio Spurs) and E.J. Liddell (No. 41 to the New Orleans Pelicans) were taken in the 2022 draft, and with two Ohio State players hearing their name called in Brooklyn, New York, the Buckeye program can now lay claim to a feat it hadn’t equaled since 2007.
That year Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook were all first-round NBA draft picks after playing just one season with the Buckeyes. Oden was the No. 1 overall pick while Conley went fourth and Cook went 21st. With sensational freshman seasons, the trio led Ohio State to the national championship game in the NCAA Tournament, where it fell short at the hands of a loaded Florida team in an 84-75 defeat.
Since then, eight other Buckeyes (not including Branham and Liddell) were drafted to the NBA, with five of them going in the first round. One-and-done big men Kosta Koufos and Byron Mullens went in the latter half of the first round in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and Evan Turner was the No. 2 overall selection in 2010 after sweeping college basketball’s national player of the year awards. Jon Diebler went 51st overall in the second round the following year, and Jared Sullinger was taken with the 21st overall pick in 2012.
|San Antonio Spurs
|Los Angeles Lakers
|San Antonio Spurs
|New Orleans Pelicans
To cap off a seven-year run in which at least one Buckeye was drafted, Deshaun Thomas heard his name called in the second round of the 2013 NBA draft, going 58th overall to the San Antonio Spurs. Two years later, D’Angelo Russell became Ohio State’s highest draft pick since Turner, going second overall to the Los Angeles Lakers as the Buckeyes’ first one-and-done prospect in six years.
The Buckeyes’ next NBA draftee since then came in 2018, when the Minnesota Timberwolves took Big Ten player of the year Keita Bates-Diop with the No. 48 overall pick in the second round. Bates-Diop was the first Chris Holtmann pupil to be drafted to the NBA, although he was coached by Thad Matta in his first three years at Ohio State.
No Buckeye was selected in the last three NBA drafts, tying the longest drought for the program since Ohio State went five drafts without a selection from 2002 to 2006. But Branham and Liddell put an end to that drought on Thursday.
“In our couple years here, people have asked and recruits have asked, ‘Hey, have you had guys that you’ve recruited that have been drafted?’ And obviously, now you have the opportunity to say that, and it does kind of put you in a different level in terms of being able to communicate that to recruits and their families,” Holtmann said on 97.1 The Fan Monday. “And I think it is really helpful in terms of future recruiting. It’s something we needed to do, it’s something we needed to do here sooner rather than later. So it’s a great success.”
Even though they weren’t drafted, Duane Washington and Jae’Sean Tate have enjoyed plenty of success in the NBA in recent seasons, becoming legitimate contributors for the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets, respectively. Coupled with Conley, Russell, Bates-Diop and the 2022 draftees, the increasing influx of Buckeyes in the NBA gives Holtmann a well-earned sense of pride in the program.
“Mike Conley’s been in the playoffs and made some deep runs, but I’m excited about Mike and D’Angelo and hopefully some of these other guys, whether it’s Duane or Keita, some of these other guys – Buckeyes – getting deep runs in the playoffs,” Holtmann said. “Because it’s just more fun when you’re watching one of your own guys or a guy from your program.”