Widely projected to be a first-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Ohio State freshman guard Malaki Branham announced on Wednesday afternoon that he is hiring an agent and is closing the door on a potential return to the Buckeyes next season.
A former four-star prospect from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Branham averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebound and 2.0 assists in 32 games (31 starts) for the Buckeyes this year.
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 conference freshman to top that mark twice this season, as well as the only freshman in Ohio State history to score 30-plus points in multiple road games.
At the end of the season, Branham was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a third-team all-conference performer by the coaches and media. He then declared for the draft on April 1 but left the door open for a potential return by not hiring an agent.
After getting feedback from NBA scouts over the last few weeks, Branham felt comfortable enough to take the next. He and junior forward E.J. Liddell will now look to become the first Buckeyes to be selected in the first round since D’Angelo Russell went No. 2 overall in 2015.
Branham’s departure only adds to the considerable turnover at guard for Ohio State this offseason after Jamari Wheeler, Cedric Russell and Jimmy Sotos exhausted their eligibility and Meechie Johnson transferred to South Carolina.
The staff has done its best to address that attrition by adding Wright State’s Tanner Holden and West Virginia’s Sean McNeil through the transfer portal. The Buckeyes also return rising junior Eugene Brown III while incoming freshmen Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle and Bowen Hardman are set to arrive on campus this summer.
Ohio State currently sits at 12 scholarship players after forwards Justice Sueing and Seth Towns announced plans to return for a sixth and seventh year, respectively. The Buckeyes are still in the market to add another forward through the transfer portal to fill the last spot on the roster.
The 2022 NBA Draft will take place in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 23.
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