With the 2022 NBA Draft less than a month away,
BasketballNews.com will have you covered from top to bottom. The
NBA Draft Combine in Chicago began the pre-draft process for a
number of hopeful prospects as they try to break into the
I had the opportunity to catch up with Ohio State swingman
Malaki Branham, who averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.0
assists per game in his lone season with the Buckeyes. We discussed
his start in basketball, playing in his home state, his second-half
surge and how he'll translate to the next level.
Let's start with your background. What's your
Malaki Branham: "My hometown is Columbus, Ohio,
where I was born and raised."
Could you tell me a little bit about your family
Branham: "I have a small circle. It's my mom,
my little brother, my uncle, my auntie and my grandma. That's about
it. My trainer is also like family. I've been working with him for
seven-plus years, so he became family."
Did you play any other sports growing up?
Branham: "No, not really. When I was younger, I
played soccer and baseball, but basketball has always been
everything to me."
When did you first start getting into organized
Branham: "Probably when I was 8 or 9. I started
playing AAU early on, and things just took off from there."
At what point in your development did it start to click
that you might have a bright future in basketball?
Branham: "It was my eighth-grade year. I dunked
on somebody; that was my first in-game dunk but my first "poster"
too. I thought, 'If I keep working, I can do something with
How tall were you when that happened?
Branham: I was around 6-2, 6-3. And I'm 6-5
now, so I've grown a few inches.
Being from Ohio, what was it like to be able to stay
home and play at Ohio State?
Branham: "It meant everything to me, getting to
play for my hometown school. I loved every second I was there on
campus with the coaching staff and everyone. It was a good feeling
to play for my hometown and have my family watch me too."
In our 2022 NBA Mock Draft on BasketballNews.com, we have
you projected to the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 14. How would you
feel if that ended up being the case?
Branham: "It would be cool! Many people back
home want me to stay and play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It's
just a blessing to be in this position."
I saw you early on in the season at the Fort Myers
Classic. At that point, you were starting, but not getting a lot of
shots. Then, midway through the season, you started to explode.
From your perspective, what began to click for you to elevate your
game so dramatically?
Branham: "I didn't have the biggest role on the
team to start. In the beginning, I was trying to fit in. Then, when
we played Wisconsin at home, I had 0 points and 4 turnovers. I
texted Coach [Chris] Holtmann after the game and thanked him for
letting me play through the mistakes that I was making. I was just
frustrated with myself, I looked in the mirror and said, 'We need
to get to work.'
"From that point, the Nebraska game came, and I kept that in the
back of my head and wanted to make sure that the game wasn't just a
fluke. I just wanted to be consistent the rest of the year, and I
feel like I did that."
The Big Ten was stacked this year. I stayed in
Indianapolis to watch the entirety of the conference tournament.
Who do you think was your toughest matchup this year?
Branham: "The toughest 1-on-1 matchups that I
had to guard, I'd probably say Fatts Russell from Maryland; he's a
smaller guard, but he's so quick and shifty. I'd also have to say
Johnny Davis and Jaden Ivey as well.
"That quick first step that lets [Jaden] get to the rim with
ease (makes him a tough matchup). Also, he gets up in the air and
gets his shot off from anywhere he wants. With him, I feel like
it's him being more explosive than everybody. Johnny is just
smooth. He's a bigger guard as well. He gets to the mid-range just
like me, so making it tough on him is hard to do. I feel like he
plays through a lot of contact.
"Those guys were both a year ahead of me, so they had a feel for
Big Ten basketball. I just had to get a feel for how they moved,
but I felt like I matched up with them pretty well."
What was your driving force for going all-in on the
Branham: "Really, it was just getting good
feedback. I kept working and put my head down, and after, I kept
getting good news. I felt like it was too good of an option for me
to pass up. I feel like entering the draft with two feet is what I
wanted, so I'm just excited to be in this process."
Can you describe yourself as a player?
Branham: "I would say that I'm aggressive. I'm
always in attack mode. When I'm between those four lines, I'm in
attack mode and aggressive. In the second half of the season, I was
aggressive, looking for my shot. I'm also always trying to
facilitate for my team too."
Are there any specific aspects of your game that you're
looking to improve?
Branham: "Probably tightening my handle. I will
be on the wing against bigger and older guys, so I need a tight
handle. I'd also like to work on my defensive abilities as well.
I'm not going to be a guy who is handling the ball all the time
right away, so I need to get some stops on the defensive end to
earn that trust on the offensive end."
Are there any current or former players that you model
your game after?
Branham: "I watch a lot of Khris Middleton,
Devin Booker and those types of guys that can get to the mid-range
and are three-level scorers. Those are the guys I model my game
If you had to use one word to describe yourself, what
would it be?
Branham: 'I'd go with resilient. There will
always be tough times in life, but I'm always pushing through. This
year was a good example of me being resilient. At the beginning of
the year, I wasn't playing as well as I could have, and in the
second half, I found a way to push through and get through it."
Let's pretend I'm an NBA general manager. What is your
elevator pitch to me as to why I should select you?
Branham: "I live and breathe basketball. I'm a
hard worker. So many people say that, but I am genuinely a hard
worker. I wake up at 5 a.m. every day and put the work in to
perfect my craft. You should select me because I do that and want
to get better every day to become the best I possibly can
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