Malaki Branham, top Ohio basketball recruit in the 2021 class, recently committed to remain within state lines and play for the Buckeyes.
The 6-foot-4 shooting guard, currently playing for St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, is the No. 27 ranked player in his class nationally and top-five at his position according to the 247Sports in-house composite rankings. Branham is considered the best player to come from SVSM, a very strong program, in the last 15 years and is now the highest-ranked commit in Chris Holtmann’s tenure.
We say the last 15 years, obviously, because a certain SVSM alum named LeBron James was the highest-touted prospect ever. Now arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, James also would have likely enrolled at Ohio State back in 2003 if he wasn’t allowed to enter the NBA Draft out of high school.
LeBron has not been shy about his admiration for, and relationship with, Ohio State throughout the years. When asked about California’s recent Fair Play to Play Act, he casually slipped a few Buckeye references into his response.
“For sure, I would have been one of those kids that went off to Ohio State (or any one of these big-time schools) and that 23 jersey would have been sold all over the place,” James said during a Lakers media session in September. “The Schottenstein Center would have been sold out every single night if I were there.”
LeBron attended “Skull Session” for Ohio State Football inside a jam-packed St. John Arena back in 2013, speaking to the crowd while accompanied by both of his sons wearing Buckeye hats.
“If I would have had one year of college, I would have ended up down here in Columbus at Ohio State,” James said energetically. “No matter where I go in the world, I will always rock Ohio State colors.”
His support of OSU Athletics has continued in a variety of ways. He helped facilitate “Beats by Dre” headphones to the entire football team prior to its 2015 College Football Playoff national championship contest with Oregon. It was part of a $400-limit gift that players are allowed to receive for bowl games. James did the same thing last December, sending each player headphones leading up to the Fiesta Bowl showdown with Clemson.
Since Ohio State’s 2007 run to the NCAA national championship game in basketball, the apparel worn by the Buckeyes has been from the Nike LeBron James line. OSU was selected as the first college to wear his apparel and, this past holiday season, Nike was selling a LeBron Ohio State “alumni jersey” for $120.
His personal/emotional investment on the basketball side will certainly be enhanced through this recent recruiting class. He extended congrats to Branham on his commitment and refers to fellow 2021 commit Meechie Johnson (Garfield Heights) as his nephew. LeBron grew up around Johnson’s father and uncle.
St. Vincent-St. Mary High School won three OHSAA state titles in four years with James and company, culminating with a national championship in 2003. He narrowly missed the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2005, which bumped the league’s age limit to 19 and forces players to spend at least one year elsewhere.
Had the “King” attended college, odds are that he would have traveled down 71 South to rock Scarlet and Gray for one year in Columbus. Regardless, it’s likely that we will continue seeing him visit campus in the future.