Ohio State’s Malaki Branham was taken by the San Antonio Spurs with the 20th pick of the NBA draft on Thursday.
Branham earned a greenroom invitation and participated in the draft in person at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
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As a freshman, Branham grew from an occasional contributor to go-to player in short order. When the Buckeyes endured a 22-day layoff due to a COVID-19 outbreak that took them into a Jan. 2 game at Nebraska, it was Branham who shot them out of an upset bid from the Cornhuskers with a historic performance. In the win, he scored 35 points, the most ever for an Ohio State freshman in a Big Ten game.
It was the start of a massive push from Branham, who opened the season unlisted by every major mock draft. After posting just one double-digit scoring effort in the first 10 games of the season, including a scoreless outing in a win against Wisconsin leading into his team’s lengthy layoff, Branham scored in double figures in 18 of the final 22 games.
Through 10 games, Branham was averaging 6.3 points per game. He finished the season at 13.7, second-most on the team, by averaging 17.0 points during those 22 games. During the final 11 games, Branham averaged 19.0 points.
Even when he wasn’t scoring, Branham made his early impact felt. In the season opener, the Ohio State coaches drew up a play in the final seconds to get the ball to Branham’s hands and let him make the right read. He fed Zed Key on the block for the game-winning basket to stave off an upset bid by Akron at Value City Arena.
Branham was named Big Ten freshman of the year, the eighth time a Buckeye earned the honor, and a third-team all-Big Ten player. As a prep star at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Branham won two state titles and was named Ohio Mr. Basketball as a senior.
Branham is the first Ohio State player taken in the first round since D’Angelo Russell was taken by the Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. He is now the seventh one-and-done player in program history, joining a list that also includes Greg Oden (2007), Mike Conley Jr. (2007), Daequan Cook (2007), Kosta Koufos (2008), B.J. Mullens (2009) and Russell.
The Buckeyes now have 25 first-round picks in program history with the potential for more still to come. Third-year forward E.J. Liddell is widely expected to be selected later during the first round, giving Ohio State multiple draft picks for the first time since 2007.