Malaki Branham.jpg

Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary senior Malaki Branham (22) celebrates after a bucket in the D-II state championship game in Dayton. The Ohio State commit became the fourth SVSM player to win Mr. Basketball, earning the honor on Wednesday.

In the final game of his high school career, 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,” STVM coach Dru Joyce II said, “but there’s nobody in the state better than him. He’s by himself.”

The Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association agreed with Joyce, naming 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 a 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 STVM 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.”

This year, Branham led STVM 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.

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