Dreams will come true for a pair of Buckeyes in just two days.
The NBA draft is coming up on Thursday night, and something would have to go wrong for Malaki Branham or EJ Liddell not to hear his name, if not in the first round. Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said Monday on 97.1 The Fan that Branham’s first-round status is a virtual lockout, while Liddell’s landing spot may look a bit more unpredictable.
Holtmann envisions a bright future for his former Scarlet and Gray stars at the next level, and believes each has a chance to end up with stable franchises because of their potential draft placement.
“I feel like both guys are going to be (first-round picks). Malaki definitely will. I would expect Malaki to be good into the first round,” Holtmann said in an appearance on The Buckeye Show. “What it looks like, it’s still fluid. It’s still fluid until it actually gets past the point where they pick it, because it’s all based on who goes where. But I do think we’ll get both guys (in the first round).
“I think maybe there’s a little more fluidity with EJ than with Malaki, but I anticipate both of them being in the first round. Certainly both boys will be recruited. My hope is just that they go to great situations. Regardless of everyone wanting to be picked higher, but you just want them to be in great situations where they develop and can make an impact and have a long career.”
The Big Ten Freshman of the Year after a breakout year with the Buckeyes, Branham is projected to be a late lottery pick on Thursday. In terms of his NBA career, Holtmann has heard scouts compare the suave 6-foot-5 shooting guard to three-time All-Star and NBA champion Khris Middleton, and despite the slight size difference between the two , the resemblance in their game is not something Buckeye’s coach disagrees with.
“It’s something we needed to do here sooner rather than later. So it’s a great success. However, more than that and what he does for our program, I will be extremely proud and happy for our guys.”–Chris Holtman
“Milwaukee’s Middleton is a guy I’ve always looked at and said, ‘I can see (a comparison),’” Holtmann said. “He’s a little bit longer and bigger than Malaki, but Malaki’s elite length and shots, and Middleton became a great player, I mean a phenomenal player, so I’ve seen him comparable and I’ve talked to a few teams. of the NBA. about that comparable to Malaki.”
For Liddell, one name that has been mentioned often in recent months is Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams, who possesses a similar physical build and versatile skill set to the two-time All-Big Ten. Williams was Tennessee’s 22nd pick in the 2019 draft, and after landing a perennial contender in Boston, the former volunteer impressed as an X-factor in his run to the NBA Finals this summer.
Holtmann doesn’t necessarily see it as a one-on-one comparison, but he thinks Liddell could quickly become a reliable contributor to a successful NBA franchise in much the same way.
“A lot of the NBA teams, whether it’s the general managers or the scouts that have called us, have brought up the comparison of Grant Williams to EJ Grant Williams coming out of Tennessee, similar build, similar body type,” he said. Holtmann. “Different games; EJ is a more polished offensive player, Grant at this stage was a better player, EJ is a better shot blocker. I think EJ has better touch, Grant is a great athlete, maybe he has a little bit of an edge there. Both guys are going to be very good, productive and long professionals. I think what they both have in common is that they are phenomenal people. So I’ve seen that one.”
We had a blast reviewing the movie with Ohio State forward EJ Liddell at the NBA Combine. He contributed from day one to the next level with the kind of defensive versatility and drive that has helped Grant Williams carve out such an important role in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/6C5RP1rjFE
—Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) May 21, 2022
In fact, Liddell may be ready to contribute even sooner than Branham, given the two extra seasons he had to develop his game at the college level. Branham’s edge is undeniable, but Liddell is probably the more proven product of the pair, considering his additional experience in the Big Ten game.
“You’ve got a guy who’s really young and people see this incredible potential in Malaki, and that’s obviously why he’s skyrocketed up the draft boards. And then you have another guy who has shown that he is ready to play and ready to impact an NBA, and not that Malaki isn’t, but EJ is ready to impact an NBA franchise,” Holtmann said. “And I think they are two great examples of each guy going his own way and having great success.”
Holtmann is excited for Branham, who is expected to become the first player Holtmann recruited out of high school to reach NBA draft status, but Liddell’s journey is one the Ohio State coach hopes to model for young players in the future.
“We knew we were going to lose EJ, we didn’t anticipate in any way that we were going to lose Malaki. But you certainly have to adjust to this level,” Holtmann said. “But EJ handled it very, very well, and he ran his own race. His career was being in college for three years and growing and developing his game, and it’s a perfect example of what can happen when you go back another year in college and you’re on the same page with the coaching staff on player development and improvements. .
“It doesn’t always happen. In fact, you can probably find so many examples where guys stay where they were, or somehow lose their value in the draft. His draft value skyrocketed. He improved up to 20, 25 positions, and it’s a credit to the boy”.
While Branham and Liddell will be the first two NBA draft picks to play solely for Holtmann at Ohio State, the number of NBA Buckeyes has steadily increased in recent years. Despite not being drafted a year ago, Duane Washington Jr. was a surprise success story with the Indiana Pacers as a rookie, and soon two more of Holtmann’s brightest Buckeyes will have a chance to prove their program can consistently produce featured on the next level.
“Mike Conley has been in the playoffs and has had some deep runs, but I’m excited about Mike and D’Angelo (Russell) and hopefully some of these other guys, whether it’s Duane (Washington) or Keita (Bates-Diop), some of these other guys, Buckeyes, making deep runs in the playoffs. Because it’s more fun when you’re watching one of your own guys or a guy from your show.”
There is no question that losing both Branham and Liddell, particularly Branham, given his early departure, will create a vacuum for Ohio State to enter the 2022-23 season. But Holtmann also knows that two first-round picks in the same year could do wonders for his program down the draft path. More important than any of those things, to Holtmann, are the achievements that await his students this week and beyond.
“In our couple of years here, people have asked and recruits have asked, ‘Hey, have you recruited guys who have been recruited?’ And obviously now you have the opportunity to say that, and it puts you on a different level in terms of being able to communicate that to recruits and their families,” Holtmann said. “And I think it’s really helpful in terms of future recruiting. It’s something we needed to do, it’s something we needed to do here sooner rather than later. So it’s a great success.
“More than that though and what he does for our program, I will be extremely proud and happy for our guys.”