Branham was above the rest

AKRON — In the final game of his high school career, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Malaki Branham showed the best parts of his game.

Not only did he turn in a stellar 37-point performance — catapulting the program to its ninth overall state title with a win over Columbus St. Francis DeSales — he also kept the team level-headed and focused as the Fighting Irish overcame a 33-28 halftime deficit.

“I’m biased I guess,” said St. V-M coach Dru Joyce II, a 1973 graduate of East Liverpool High School, “but there’s nobody in the state better than him. He’s by himself.”

The Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association agreed with Joyce, naming the 6-foot-5 Branham as Ohio’s Mr. Basketball for the 2020-21 season on Wednesday. The award, now in its 34th year, is voted on by a statewide media panel.

Branham’s win is record-breaking one.

As a program, the Fighting Irish now have four Mr. Basketball wins, the most of any program in the state. Branham’s win breaks a three-way tie and pushes St. V-M past Lima Senior and Columbus Northland; both schools have three previous winners.

The other three STVM wins belong to LeBron James (2001, 2002, 2003).

“The things that go through my mind knowing this are just being thankful for the people that have sacrificed and helped me to this point,” Branham said. “My trainer Jason Dawson, my AAU coach (Danielle) Love, the shot doc, coach Dru and all of my family members. They sacrificed so much for me to be in this situation now, so I just want to thank them. There’s been good times and bad times, but all the people that I mentioned, they always encouraged me.

“And to be on this list with LeBron just shows me that there is more work to be done. It makes me understand that there are more goals I want to accomplish and it’s going to make me work even harder than ever and not let anyone or anything get in my way.”

This year, Branham led St. V-M to a 25-2 record, averaging 21.3 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals.

For Mr. Basketball, Branham won the award over six other finalists — Chris Livingston of Akron Buchtel, Luke Chicone of Mentor, Desmond Watson of Columbus DeSales, Kobe Rodgers of St. Xavier, George Mangas of Lima Shawnee, and Kobe Mitchell of Cadiz Harrison Central. Chris Livingston, the lone junior in the group, was the runner-up for the award.

Branham ends his high school career as a two-time state champion (2018, 2021) and with 1,501 career points. He is No. 4 on the program’s all-time scoring list behind James, Curtis Wilson and Jerome Lane.

“When it came right down to it, he understood when he needed a basket where to go to get it,” Joyce said. “That’s not as easy as it sounds. That’s something LeBron James did. When I needed a basket when LeBron James was here, he would go get it, and he knew how to go get it and where to go get it from. Some guys, they don’t understand what that good shot is for them.

“But (Branham) understood, just like in the championship game, what that good shot is for him. He knows it’s that mid-range (shot) and he understands it, he’s worked at it and then he would look to get those kinds of things.”

He will continue his basketball career at Ohio State next season and added that St. V-M helped him get to this point where he is ready to take that next step.

“It will be a lot of work to get ready, staying in consistent contact with coach (Chris) Holtmann and the rest of the coaching staff, watching a lot of film,” Branham said. “Working on what I need to do better to get ready for the next level, building on my skill set and improving on my weaknesses. It will be more about me learning and growing as a young man and [becoming] an even better player as I prepare to take the next step in my life.”


Ohio Mr. Basketball Winners

2021 – Malaki Branham, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary

2020 – VonCameron Davis, Columbus Walnut Ridge

2019 – Samari Curtis, Xenia

2018 – Dane Goodwin, Upper Arlington

2017 – Kaleb Wesson, Westerville South

2016 – Xavier Simpson, Lima Senior

2015 – 2014 Luke Kennard, Franklin High School

2013 – Marc Loving, Toledo St. John’s Jesuit

2012 – Justin Fritts, Mentor

2011 – Trey Burke, Columbus Northland

2010 – Jared Sullinger, Columbus Northland

2009 – Jared Sullinger, Columbus Northland

2008 – William Buford, Toledo Libbey

2007 – Jon Diebler, Upper Sandusky

2006 – O.J. Mayo, North College Hill

2005 – O.J. Mayo, North College Hill

2004 – Jamar Butler, Lima Shawnee

2003 – LeBron James, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary

2002 – LeBron James, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary

2001 – LeBron James, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary

2000 – (tie) Tony Stockman, Medina; Chester Mason, Cleveland South

1999 – Isaac Jefferson, Columbus West

1998 – William “Sonny” Johnson, Garfield Heights

1997 – Kenny Gregory, Independence

1996 – Jason Collier, Springfield Catholic

1995 – Damon Stringer, Cleveland Heights

1994 – Aaron Hutchins, Lima Central Catholic

1993 – Geno Ford, Cambridge

1992 – Greg Simpson, Lima Senior

1991 – Greg Simpson, Lima Senior

1990 – Bob Patton Jr., Youngstown Liberty

1989 – Jimmy Jackson, Toledo Macomber

1988 – Jimmy Jackson, Toledo Macomber


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today