KEARNEY— Drake Beranek, head coach of the Kearney High School basketball team, was looking for extra help for the summer league season. Who did they find? Just one of the top centers in the country in the class of 2023 while he was shooting around at the Bearcats’ gym.
The Bearcats temporarily added Gus Yalden, a four-star prospect out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Yalden is listed at 6-foot-8, 240 pounds. Even at his size and still growing, he is light on his feet and has impressive ball-handling skills. He can attack the basket inside and out to the point that his teammates call him, “Baby Jokic,” named after the Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, his favorite NBA player and reigning MVP.
“Gus is a pretty good player, and you can see the confidence growing in our players playing with a kid of that caliber throughout the weekend,” Beranek said.
Ranked Top 10 among centers nationally, he has more than 20 offers as he enters his junior season at IMG Academy. Some of his notable offers include Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida State. He has yet to decide where he wants to commit and is not in a hurry as he has two more years before signing his letter of intent.
“I’m going to start cutting my list down in the fall. For now I have no set dates for commitments or anything,” Yalden said. “I’m just slowly taking the time to get to know these coaches, build a relationship with them and my family and make a decision from there, which I feel is best for me and my whole family.”
Yalden, who is originally from Wisconsin, has family ties to the city of Kearney. If the name rings a bell, here’s why. Yalden is the son of Fredrika “Freddy” Yalden, a former assistant coach for the University of Nebraska-Kearney women’s basketball team for two seasons (2009-2011).
His grandparents still live in Kearney, so Yalden has been staying with them during his time in town.
Yalden just happened to be in town for the summer as he’s been rehabbing from his fifth metatarsal injury. While recovering, Yalden wanted to stay active, so he reached out to Beranek about joining his Bearcat team. With the Bearcats dealing with some injuries that have limited their number, Beranek couldn’t say no.
“It puts ourselves in a position where we are able to do some things during this season,” Beranek said. “It’s a lot of pressure for some of those guys to be put on the spot where they are making a ton of plays and doing all that stuff. It was a benefit for both. I think Gus was able to get some runs in which he wanted to do, and our kids were able to be in spots where they are asked to be during the year and play well against some good competition.”
It is the first time Yalden has ever put on a Kearney uniform. However, he got a chance to reunite with some of his childhood friends.
“I have known them for a long time since we were in grade school,” Yalden said. “They are fun to play with and are really nice. Coach (Drake) Beranek does a really good job here ... it was super fun to be out here playing.”
Yalden said basketball wasn’t even his favorite sport growing up.
In fact, his first love was hockey. Yalden played junior hockey before being cut when he reached the sixth grade. That’s when he started falling for basketball. It also helps to have a coach for a mother. Yalden would come to UNK’s basketball gym and start practicing his shooting with some assistance from Tom Kropp, former UNK men’s basketball coach.
“When I was younger, I was at UNK, and I played there,” Yalden said. “Coach Kropp taught me how to shoot when I was really little, and I just played over there, messing around.”
Yalden would come and visit Kearney occasionally. One of his closest friends he got a chance to reconnect with was Jack Dahlgren. Childhood friends, both were even members of the Kearney Kings basketball team in the fourth and fifth grades. Whenever he is in town, he would spend time with him and the rest of his Bearcat friends.
“We played basketball and baseball together our entire lives,” Dahlgren said. “Whenever he moved away to Wisconsin to play with his AAU team a couple of times, he would come back and just hang out, giving him rides because he can’t drive but it has always kind of clicked.”
At first it was an adjustment for the Kearney boys to have a talented player like Yalden, but eventually, they were all on the same page. Last week, in Kearney’s overtime win over Bellevue West, Dahlgren threw a quarterback pass to Yalden from the baseline, and Yalden put the ball in for a score.
“I was really happy, playing with a good guy like that is once in a lifetime, especially that he’s a close friend of mine,” Dalghren said. “It’s a great feeling.”
While there are no signs of Yalden transferring to Kearney High in the future as he plans on returning to IMG this coming school year, Yalden enjoyed being a Bearcat for a moment.
“I’m really thankful to the school for letting me come in here and being able to use the gyms, being able to lift with them,” Yalden said about playing for KHS. “It’s a great school, community and I’m super thankful for working out here in the offseason.”
Gus Yalden got the chance to be a Kearney Bearcat, just for the summer, as he was added to roster after Kearney coach Drake Beranek needed more depth due to injuries.