Robert “Gus” Yalden is someone who immediately stands out due to his size. Pushing 6’10 with a frame that will immediately give him a presence even at the college level, Yalden has already been offered by a good number of high majors. Beyond his rare strength and size, he has shown an ability to make quick decisions on the move while displaying a shooting touch one does not expect from a true five man. His combination of post play and ability to stretch make up for some of the athletic limitations. Yalden thinks the game very well and his effort seems to be a big part of his effectiveness.
Starting off his high school play at Mater Dei HS (CA), he moved to North Carolina and then quickly to his current location of IMG Academy (FL). At both of his HS stops he faced a number of big men going to Division I schools, a tremendous experience considering he will graduate high school in 2023. Growing up in Wisconsin, getting an offer from the Badgers was a huge deal for Yalden. They are part of a list that includes the likes of Auburn, Florida State, Maryland, Nebraska, Rutgers, Stanford, and Winthrop. Yalden is also receiving interest from many other high majors and is keeping his options open at this time.
In a year that has seen many changes going on in the world, Yalden is also evolving. He has focused on his conditioning, trying to expand his offensive game at each level and facing the tough task of guarding IMG’s loaded front court, not to mention the schedule they have faced this season. Becoming an expert at verticality and drawing charges, he is also learning to refine the off-ball skills that coaches love from their centers. This includes screen-setting and passing from the short roll and ambidexterity. Yalden certainly has been challenged in his high school career and he is handling it in a way that has some of the NCAA’s most prestigious coaches taking notice.
This interview looks into Yalden’s family history, his basketball journey, what he brings to the table as a player, highlighting past teammates, breaking down some of his recruitment and showcases that he is well ahead of the curve in terms of his aspiration to eventually delve into a successful career post-basketball.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2023 prospect Gus Yalden, from Appleton, Wisconsin:
Pro Insight: Can you tell us a bit about your background and where you grew up?
Gus Yalden: I’m from Appleton, Wisconsin. I was born in College Park, Maryland. From there, I moved to Wisconsin and then to Nebraska, and back to Wisconsin. I grew up with my mom most of my life. My dad wasn’t around too much, but I still got to spend time with him. My mom was a college basketball coach at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. She coached there for a couple of years until she moved on to get her master’s degree and became a surgical technician. From there, she became one of the associate people at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, where she works now. So, growing up was always fun because I was always around basketball. She was a basketball coach at Waupaca High School, so I grew up around basketball my whole life. But I never really started to get into the game until seventh or eighth grade when I first started to play travel ball — AAU ball and stuff like that. I played on a local team in Nebraska called the Kearney Kings and we played in three or four tournaments a year. Then I played for my local middle school team and we would play the other local Catholic schools. Other than that, I was a hockey player; I grew up playing hockey with my cousins. I started skating when I was two or three [years old] and I played hockey with my cousins for the Tri-City Storm in Nebraska. From there, I wanted to start to play hockey more competitively, so I moved to Wisconsin where it just didn’t turn out. From hockey, I made the transition into basketball where I really started to love to play the game.
PI: What about basketball made you fall in love with it?
GY: I really liked the basketball part because my mom had played it, I was tall, and I was good at it. That’s what made it really fun for me, was that I could dominate and be really good and successful. From there, it started to be something that I could just do for fun, go outside and shoot hoops and be a way for me to exercise that was really fun. And all my friends liked to play it, so I just started to get into it and the more I started to play the more I started to really love spending time playing and being around people who played it. From there, I just started to get better and I had a natural eye for the game and a different style of play than everyone else. My feel for it is so much different than other people and that’s what made it fun. I could do things that other kids couldn’t because I wanted to or had the ability to.
PI: What did you learn from your mom with her being such a successful high school and college coach?
GY: I learned a lot from her. She was the one who taught me how to shoot, how to dribble. But most important, she was a post player and I’m a post player. She learned everything on her own. Her back to the basket game, she watched Hakeem Olajuwon and other people as much as she could to learn her moves, and then she would add a little twist to them. When I was in middle school and I was playing for my team, she taught me how to shoot hook shots, the up-and-under, the step-through, as much as she could. And from there I started to get creative with it where it was a step-through and then an up-fake and go back, whatever it was. She taught me and I just modified it. A lot of stuff I learned was from her. The only thing she didn’t teach me was how to shoot a three. She only shot two in her whole career playing, so I had to learn that on my own. She did teach me how to shoot but it was mostly mid-range and free throws. But other than that, growing up around her there were constant people who were around that played the game and were supportive. It was really cool to go to her games and watch them play because I knew them. A couple of them would babysit me or I would go to their house and it was really cool being around that. So, I built a lot of relationships with those people and it was really fun. Other than that, I would just wake up and go see my mom after she was done with school and practice and I would have a ball and dribble it around and do whatever. I would always be around a basketball setting.
PI: For people who haven’t seen you play, describe some of your greatest strengths on the court.
GY: For those who haven’t seen me play, I would say my greatest strength is my ability to be a post player who can handle the ball, shoot the ball and pass the ball at a really high level. My natural size gives me an advantage in the post but when a taller defender out-matches me, then I have the ability to make plays on the perimeter. Whether it be a three, a dribble-drive kick, or something along those lines. Whoever is guarding me, I have some way to score or a way to do something productive. Another thing I’d say is that this year as a role player I learned how to be a hustle player: take charges, grab offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, set good screens, be able to play off the ball really well, to get myself open when I don’t have the ball in my hands. When you have seniors and juniors ahead of you who are really highly ranked and really really good, then it’s hard to have the ball in your hands all the time as a big sophomore. So, I learned how to play off the ball, setting off-ball screens, on-ball screens, back screens, flare screens to get myself open looks. Probably the one thing I’ve learned the most this year is offensive rebounding. We are a really good shooting team but when you shoot really well, you shoot a volume of shots so learning how to rebound those missed shots is the reason why I got some of those points in games this year. I was able to get really easy stick backs from missed shots.
PI: What are you still trying to work on and improve?
GY: I would say that the one thing I’m working on the most is my lateral quickness and my speed because that’s the one thing I need to focus on to be really proficient at the next level. That’s why I came here, to be at peak performance with my body and how fast and quick I get. The person who helped me the most here was Coach UJ [Johnson]. He was one of the big reasons my mom and I decided to come here. I’m actually super proud because he just accepted a job at Alabama Football. He won’t be here anymore. He was the big reason why I am quicker, faster, more explosive now. That’s the big thing I’m working on so that I can not only be able to guard a five, but I can guard a three or a two, so that I can be that guy that can be interchanged anywhere on the court.
PI: You made the move from Mater Dei to IMG this past year — what went into that decision?
GY: Mater Dei was kind of a rushed decision. I was at Xavier High School in Appleton [Wisconsin]. I went to the Pangos All Frosh/Soph camp in Chicago where I was noticed by some people who wanted me to go out and play on the west coast and they gave me those connections. I went out and visited a couple schools and I thought Mater Dei would be nice and it was in the transition of my mom moving to Colorado, so I was already not going to be playing in Wisconsin. As you know, Colorado basketball isn’t really that great of a spot to be playing in, and the league I would’ve been playing in would have not been that great. So, we made the hasty jump to just go to Mater Dei and if it works out, it works out and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll go find something else. It was really good for me. I thank all of the people who helped me there because they gave me the first opportunity in a big basketball scenario. Playing against Devin Askew who’s starting at Kentucky now. Playing against Wilhelm [Breidenbach] who’s going to Nebraska, Nick [Davidson] who’s going to Nevada, Harrison [Hornery] who’s going to USC. They were all super good and as a freshman stepping in and playing against them was really hard to do. I learned a lot from it. I didn’t play much but the thing I gained the most was the practice experience and the ability to start to play at the high school speed. That set me up to play AAU in Wisconsin, where I put up great numbers and played really well. I caught the eye of a lot coaches and from there I knew [Mater Dei’s] three bigs would be returning. That would mean I would be the fourth big man and come off the bench and wouldn’t get a ton of minutes with three seniors ahead of me. We made the decision to go to the Asheville School in North Carolina and we quickly got the opportunity a couple of months later from IMG. When a school like IMG recruits y