Ohio State freshman guard Malaki Branham announced on Friday evening that he will enter his name into the 2022 NBA Draft but not hire an agent, leaving the door open for a return to the Buckeyes next season.
“As a basketball player growing up, my dream has always been to play in the NBA,” Branham said in a post on social media. “All the long hours in the gym, the sacrifices I, as well as my family have made, and simply just following the plan that God has for me has brought me to this point.
“Words can’t express how grateful I am that I became a Buckeye. I can’t thank The Ohio State University enough for the opportunity to play the game I love in my hometown. Thank you to Coach (Chris) Holtmann and entire staff for believing in me. They have allowed me to grow as a young man, a basketball player and simple a better person over this past season."
A former four-star prospect from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Branham averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebound and 2.0 assists while shooting 49.8 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from the three-point line in 32 games (31 starts) for Ohio State this season.
That includes a pair of 30-point outings in wins at Nebraska and Illinois on Jan. 3 and Feb. 24, respectively, making him the only Power 5 freshman to top the mark twice this season. He was subsequently named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, which is one reason why he’s projected by many mock drafts to be a first-round pick this June.
Branham is the second Buckeye to declare for the draft this offseason, joining junior forward E.J. Liddell. His decision is similar to the one Liddell made last year, when he tested the NBA waters but ultimately decided to return to school for another year.
“I will be testing the draft waters while keeping my college eligibility intact,” Branham told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. “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."
That said, Branham acknowledged during his media availability leading up to the NCAA Tournament that he still has some things to work on before he can make an impact at the next level.
“I’m still working, still trying to get better at aspects, especially my off-the-ball awareness,” Branham said on March 16. “My on-the-ball defense has gotten a little better, but I still have to improve on that. I feel like I’ve just got to keep working in practice every day and I think I’ll be good.”
The NBA Draft Combine will be held from May 16-22 in Chicago, while the 2022 NBA Draft is set for June 23 in Brooklyn. Underclassmen have until June 13 to withdraw their name from consideration.
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