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Ohio State’s Malachy Branham could be drafted by Knicks after rapid rise in NBA draft

Having completed his last workout, Malachy Branham can finally relax as he prepares for Thursday’s NBA draft and his meteoric rise from surprise rookie at Ohio State to likely lottery pick.

But the 19-year-old shooting guard didn’t put up much effort. At the NBA draft last month, he was asked about the interview process when he runs from one team to another.

“It was good,” he said. “I speak short and sweet.”

At what is essentially a job interview, he was asked why he was short.

“[There’s] there aren’t many things that actually happened in my life,” Branham said. “I came from a good school, transferred, one year of college and here I am.”

That may be an understatement of what he did to get to this point, and will almost certainly change on Thursday when he finds himself walking across the stage to hug or shake hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Branham interviewed the Knicks at the combine and then worked with them earlier this month in a session in which he paired up with another likely lottery pick, Dyson Daniels, and other first-round prospects, T.T. Washington and Josh Minott.

While this draft, perhaps more than most, seems fraught with uncertainty, Branham could be available when the Knicks should pick No. 11. Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero, and Chet Holmgren are likely top three picks. Jayden Ivey and Keegan Murray are expected to round out the top five. And then it’s a mystery. The Knicks miscalculated Bennedict Mathurin, expecting him to leave before they were drafted, and Daniels had to leave as well. Then it’s a fight, and Branham might end up in Madison Square Garden.

“I really don’t get it,” Branham said of the supposed blueprints and projections. “Throughout the season, even my teammates say, ‘You’re on the joke. You’re in a fake draft. I don’t want to look at this and get dumb. It’s strange and at the same time a blessing.”

Branham, who was 64 years old on the combine, took nothing for granted. He even faced the Nets, who don’t have a draft choice at all.

“They just kind of wanted to get to know me better,” Branham said. “Find out what kind of person I was, you know, my family. And you know, just asking questions about what I think about games and stuff like that. It wasn’t too crazy.”

Branham’s stock rallied throughout his freshman season, most of his improvement came when the Buckeye program was put on hold due to COVID-19 and he was on his own. In the first 10 games of the season, he averaged 6.3 points per game on 38.8% shooting.

But after a three-week break — not testing positive and quitting himself — he came back with a 35-point breakthrough against Nebraska. In his last 22 games, he averaged 17 points on 52.8% shooting. He finished with 23 points against Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and is in the draft as a next-level unmistakable scorer.

He went from a player who didn’t get drafted to the G League a year ago to one who has a green room draft pick on Thursday.

“I felt like I was expecting this for myself,” he said. “I know a lot of people didn’t. But I expected it and it’s definitely a dream come true. You always want to be in the green room, shake the commissioner’s hand, you know, hear your name called in your family. So that has always been my dream and I’m glad it almost came true.”

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