This past weekend, Phenom Hoops traveled down to Matthews, North Carolina for our annual Carmel Christian MLK Showcase. The event featured a six-game slate of intense, highly talented competition from throughout the state. Although each of the twelve teams in attendance have their own respective subplots and storylines, the Asheville School Blues were too impressive to ignore. We’d previously seen the Blues in a matchup with High Point Christian earlier this season, but it’s an entirely different group following the noteworthy addition to their roster. Furthermore, Coach Nick Whitmore now has all the necessary pieces in place to highlight his variety of extremely sharp sets. They can truly compete with any team in the state and, given their collection of juniors, should contend for the next two state championships. Let’s take a closer look at their main individual pieces…
6’8 ’23 Gus Yalden
The difference in this team before and after the arrival of Gus Yalden is obvious. His addition not only provides them with a go-to offensive option, but a walking mismatch with the ability to dominate the glass on either end of the floor. Yalden possesses a big, strong frame and understands how to consistently utilize his body to outmuscle opponents within the paint. He’s incredible at moving without the ball and properly positioning himself for success (especially as a rebounder). Yalden has great hands and a clear nose for the ball, which allows him to effortlessly accumulate tips and second-chance opportunities (or push the break himself in transition). That being said, the most common buzzword regarding the sturdy big man is “skill,” and it’s pretty easy to see why. Yalden is genuinely as skilled as any forward/post prospect in the state. He’s a brilliant passer and reliable scorer from all levels with the blend of IQ, size, and natural leadership to really shine as a focal point. Yalden can post-up, initiate the offense, or adapt his approach on a possession-to-possession basis. He’s equally as effective from the block or beyond the arc. Yalden also does a quality job of anchoring the paint and protecting the rim despite not being overly explosive. It’s easy to see why his name is nationally recognized, and he should continue to stand out as one of the top prospects in North Carolina’s Class of 2023.
6’3 ’23 Derin Saran
Given our first viewing earlier this season, we’ve already declared our likening of Derin Saran and everything he brings to the table. However, still not enough folks are talking about his two-way presence as a smart, tough, heady floor general. For starters, Saran is definitely on a short list of the top passers in the state–both in terms of flare and making the right play. He’s great at finding seams and exploiting openings within the teeth of the defense, which he then attacks and finishes or sets up others with relative ease. Saran definitely displays a creative imagination with the ball in his hands (controlled rather than erratic) and excels in the open floor, but can also effectively coexist alongside another primary ball-handler. He’s a great defender, rebounder, and overall pace-setter for this group. Although Saran is still a junior, scholarship-level coaches would be smart to get involved sooner than later.
6’5 ’23 Michael Mora
Although he’s already a consistent producer for the Blues, it seems like Michael Mora has the tools to get even better over the coming months. He’s a reliable wing shooting threat with nice size, motor, and the ability to battle inside the paint on either end of the floor. Mora is a useful defender with anticipation instincts and the ability to force turnovers by intercepting passing lanes. He’s a fairly well-rounded player who doesn’t necessarily require the ball to make his presence felt. While he already possesses college-level ability, Mora could really take another step within the next year.
6’2 ’23 Kaden Holdbrook
Representing their primary shooting threat, Kaden Holdbrook is arguably as reliable as anyone on the roster when it comes to hitting jumpers. He’s also capable of being a secondary ball-handler and making an impact as a pesky on-ball defender. Holdbrook plays hard, fills in the gaps effectively, and can consistently knock down shots—both off the catch and bounce. He really excels within his two-way role, and capitalizes within the flow of the action. Like the others above, Holdbrook will find a home at the next level.
6’9 ’22 Leon Nahar (Stony Brook)
Though he was sidelined last weekend, Leon Nahar is already committed to Stony Brook and pretty well-documented overall. He’s a skilled forward with a beautiful three-point stroke and a blossoming interior presence. Nahar displays an active motor and willingness to battle inside whenever possible. Given his long, wiry frame, Nahar should only continue to trend upward over the foreseeable future.
6’8 ’22 Berk Martin
Every team needs a guy like Berk Martin, someone who selflessly brings his tough, blue-collar presence to every single possession. He’s a big, strong-bodied post prospect with a high motor and quality rebounding instincts. Martin does a nice job of playing within himself and the team, and not forcing the action. He looks to secure rebounds, alter shots, and make hustle plays.
6’7 ’23 Murathan Kocaman
Similar to his teammate above, Murathan Kocaman provides great interior energy as a big man off the bench. He plays hard, utilizes his body, and looks to pursue rebounds at a consistent rate. Kocaman also works to alter shots and capitalize on offensive chances as needed.