Holtmann Signs Three for 2021 Class
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Chris Holtmann, head coach of the Buckeyes, announced the 2021 Ohio State men’s basketball recruiting class. The trio of signees all hail from the state of Ohio and comprise a class rated among the Top 10 nationally and the No. 3 class in the Big Ten. The newest Buckeyes are:
- Malaki Branham, a 6-foot-5-inch, 190-pound guard from Akron (St. Vincent-St. Mary);
- Kalen Etzler, a 6-8, 200-pound, forward from Convoy (Crestview High School); and
- Meechie Johnson Jr. a 6- 2, 185-pound point guard from Cleveland (Garfield Heights High School).
Branham is a Top 30 prospect nationally by ESPN. Born and raised in Columbus before a move to Akron prior to his ninth grade year, Branham averaged 18.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in four games at the U16 Nike Peach Jam for NEO Tru Game in the summer of 2019, shooting 38.5% from 3-point range.
As a freshman, Branham helped SVSM win the Ohio State Division II State Championship, then go 24-4 overall as a sophomore following a loss in the Division I state title game. His junior year was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before his season was postponed, Branham had led SVSM to a Division II Sweet 16 berth while averaging 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists a game. His career-best scoring night also came as a junior with a 42-point effort in a win over Trotwood-Madison. He also added 13 rebounds in that game.
MaxPreps named him to the Junior All-America Team to go along with first team All-Ohio and first team All-Northeast Inland District honors.
“We are really excited about the addition of Malaki,” Holtmann said. “It became clear during the recruiting process that he and his family fit exactly what we were looking for. He brings great versatility and positional size to our backcourt, while playing with the competitiveness and habits we value here. His ability to impact winning on both ends is really exciting. Malaki comes from a storied Ohio high school program and will come in ready to make an impact as a Buckeye. His best days as a player are ahead of him. Malaki is a great addition to the University community and we are excited to officially welcome him to our Ohio State basketball family.”
Etzler is the third Top 100 national recruit inked by Holtmann and the Buckeye coaching staff this year. He is the nephew of Doug Etzler, who played for the Buckeyes from 1992-95. Doug is currently the head coach at Convoy Crestview HS.
As a sophomore, Kalen, the first to commit to the Buckeyes in this class, helped lead Crestview to the Division IV Ohio State Championship with averages of 12.0 points and seven rebounds a game, while playing alongside his brother, Javin, currently a redshirt freshman at Miami (OH) University.
As a junior, he earned second team All-Ohio honors and first team All-Northwest Ohio accolades after averaging 17.9 points per game.
“We are excited to officially welcome Kalen and his family to The Ohio State University and the Buckeye basketball family,” Holtmann said. “Kalen and his family have Ohio State ties and I know he is looking forward to putting on the Scarlet and Gray for the first time. We love the fact that he plays for his uncle and loves being a Buckeye. His combination of skill and athleticism stood out from the beginning of the recruiting process and he has worked hard to continue his development. We see value in his versatility and love his passion for the Buckeyes. He has the potential to really grow as a player as his strength improves every year. We are looking forward to getting him to Columbus.”
Johnson Jr. was the second to commit to the Buckeyes in the class of 2021 and is rated as a Top 50 prospect nationally by ESPN.
Johnson Jr. comes from a basketball family, as his father (Demetrius Sr.) and two uncles (Sonny, Juby) all played Division I basketball.
His father, Meechie Johnson, Sr., played at Kent State, where current Ohio State assistant coach Ryan Pedon was on staff. Johnson Sr. then transferred to IPFW, where another current Buckeye assistant coach, Terry Johnson, was on staff as an assistant.
Nationally, Johnson Jr., is one of the top prospects at his position and among the Top 5 in the state of Ohio.
“Meechie is a great addition to our basketball family,” Holtmann said. “The recruiting process revealed not only his love for the game and how hard of a worker he is, but it also became obvious how important family is to him. He is gifted with the ball in his hands and coupled with his size, will fit great in our system. We love the fact that he is an Ohio kid from a great high school program. We are excited for him to achieve his dreams of being a Buckeye and want to officially welcome him to our Ohio State basketball family. I know he can’t wait to put on a Buckeye uniform and is hungry to get to work.”
As a freshman at Garfield Heights, Johnson Jr. scored 50 points in his third high school game of his career against Benedictine High School, making eight 3-pointers while going 10-12 from the foul line. He averaged 23.0 points a game as a sophomore before a season-ending injury that also cost him his junior campaign.
He returned to the court this summer alongside future teammate Kalen Etzler with Indy Heat during the AAU season where he showcased increased size and strength.
Solid academically, Johnson Jr. is a member of the National Honor Society.