“I grew up a Wisconsin fan. Being from Appleton, Wisconsin basketball just means more. It just means more to me.”
2023 4-star big man Gus Yalden (Appleton) said this on Instagram Live at the end of his commitment video on Tuesday morning. He also noted that he was so devastated after the 2015 team lost to Duke in the finals that he wasn’t able to go to school the next day. Yalden has moved around a bunch in high school, due to his mom’s job, but his heart appears to have always been in the Dairy State.
With his announcement earlier this week that he was choosing Wisconsin over Nebraska, Rutgers and College of Charleston, Yalden became the second member of Greg Gard’s 2023 recruiting class. Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Iowa, Louisville, Marquette, Maryland, Oklahoma, Stanford, West Virginia and Xavier also extended scholarship offers to the big man.
Yalden is 6-foot-8 (or 6-foot-9 according to his Twitter profile) and weighs around 240 pounds according to the various recruiting sites. Not to be a woman on a dating app, but that one inch of height does actually matter here. Yalden is already coming in to the Big Ten a bit undersized to play the pivot, and if he is only 6-foot-8 there will be a tough decision to make about who he defends.
Before we get into his defense, let’s talk about the superior side of the court for him: when he’s on offense. Yalden has been on the radar of those who follow basketball recruiting since he was a freshman and quickly earned the nickname “Baby Jokic” due to his build and playing style. Now, is comparing a high school freshman to one of the best players in the world fair? No, no it is not, but that’s what happens sometimes when mixtapes come out and a player is dominant.
He showed really nice skills as a freshman and was touted as the “top freshman in Wisconsin.” An important thing to note is that he is almost always the biggest player on the court in this video below.
Is he the next coming of Nikola Jokic or is he just taller than everyone? As he progressed throughout his high school career it became more and more clear that, while he was extremely talented, his early highlights were in large part because he was bigger than everyone. There were even videos that called him 6-foot-10 in their title, which also gave people unrealistic expectations for Yalden. Again, those inches matter in evaluations and it’s pretty clear that Yalden is not that tall.
Here are some of his sophomore year highlights, some of which come while he was playing with basketball powerhouse IMG (Bradenton, Fla.) Academy. The skills are all still there, and improved, but he is not as physically dominant as he was in the previous video.
That being said, Yalden is still a load to handle in the post. He has an advanced post moves package and is extremely difficult to guard one-on-one down there. He has soft, active hands and can put defenders in hell with a series of pivots, pump fakes and spins until he gets the look he wants.
He is active and tireless on the glass, tapping the ball up or off the backboard until he, or a teammate, can secure it. His interior passing is impressive too. He makes wrap-around passes that usually a much smaller, quicker player would only be able to attempt, let alone complete.
The above clip is the most recent highlight video of Yalden and I think it shows the entire breadth of his offensive game.
Yalden can step out and drill threes, both out of the pick and roll and in catch and shoot situations. When he was younger he would handle the ball more and could even step into some pull-up threes, but that is less a part of his game now as the defenders are more athletic and won’t let Yalden bring the ball up much.
His three point stroke is clean and efficient and it also allows him to use pump fakes and then attack closeouts and get into the paint to create numbers mismatches which often result in a layup for someone.
As we all know, there are two sides to a basketball court and, especially at Wisconsin, you aren’t going to get much run if you can’t play defense. Yalden has the potential to be a good team defender. He’s smart, he tries hard and he can get good rebounding position to prevent offensive boards.
I think Greg Gard will try and keep him from defending in space too much as his foot speed isn’t great and he’ll also be unable, at least at first, to defend Big Ten bigs by himself right away. The thing about Yalden is that he just needs to be an average defender so that he isn’t giving away everything that he gained on the offensive end of the court.
Another thing that is worth noting is that Yalden has suffered through some foot injuries already in his career, which is worrisome in relation to a big man, but it also means that we may not have seen him at 100% in a while. Being fully healthy and entering a college strength and conditioning program will do wonders for Yalden’s body and will help with his defense too.
According to Evan Flood over at Badger247 ($), Yalden averaged 17.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for Asheville (N.C.) School last year and is averaging a team-high 13.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor for City Rocks in the Nike EYBL this spring.
Yalden is a good get for Wisconsin. He fits into what the want to do on offense very well and it’s always nice to see the team identify a talented prospect early and then get him even though he was being recruited nationally. There are no longer thoughts of Yalden being a one-and-done and, unless there is some sort of huge leap between his freshman and sophomore year a la Johnny Davis, he should be in the program for at least three years to develop his game.
It’ll be extremely interesting to see what Gard and co. does with the other two (maybe just one depending on how they want to manage the roster) scholarships in the 2023 class. Another big man would be nice, especially one that can shoot too because Yalden will probably do most of his damage down low (although he can shoot as we noted), and a rangy wing would be great too.
Having two pieces of his ‘23 class already in place heading into the summer has to have Gard happy and now he, and the staff, can focus on a small handful of prospects and really put the full-court press (that’s a basketball term) on them.
Here are Yalden’s recruiting rankings:
247Sports: 4-star, 89; No. 93 nationally, No. 12 C, No. 4 Wisconsin
Rivals: 4-star; No. 94 nationally
On3 Sports: 4-star, 92; No. 87 nationally, No. 9 C, No. 4 North Carolina
ESPN: 4- star, 80; No. 55 region, No. 28 C, No. 10 North Carolina
247 Composite: 4-star, .9398; No. 126 nationally, No. 16 C, No. 4 Wisconsin
On3 Consensus: 4-star, 90.50; No. 94 nationally, No. 11 C, No. 4 North Carolina
After Yalden’s commitment, the Badgers sit at No. 9 nationally (No. 18 in the Composite Rankings) in the 247 Sports 2023 Class Rankings. Purdue, Ohio State and Indiana are all ahead of UW in the top-10, but it is important to remember that this is still early in the process and these rankings are extremely volatile when any one player commits.