Provo • The past two seasons have seen some of the best talent in BYU’s basketball program make an early exodus. Last summer it was Eric Mika, who went pro before his senior year. After this season, it was Elijah Bryant, who hired an agent last month.
But that doesn’t mean anything is going south in Provo, said Yoeli Childs, who has kept in close contact with both players since they’ve left BYU.
“They’re both great guys, and they’re doing what’s right for them and their future,” Childs said. “Everybody has a different timeline. Everybody has a different process.”
And Childs’ timeline? That’s leading him right back to BYU next fall for his junior season.
It’s an exhale for the Cougars, who will be bringing back the basketball team’s second- leading scorer (17.8 ppg), top rebounder (8.6 rpg) and best rim protector (1.8 bpg) from last year’s 24-11 squad. But it’s also a relief for Childs, who told media in Provo on Thursday morning that putting his name in the draft without hiring an agent allowed him to learn a lot about the direction he needs to take his game with at least one more season left in college.
An alum of Bingham High School, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Childs worked out with the Brooklyn Nets, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Boston Celtics, and got the feedback he believes he needs to become a professional player. But he’s also OK putting it off for one year, giving the Cougars a chance to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.
“It’s like getting the answer key before the test. You know exactly what you need to do, and it gives you motivation to go work on those things,” Childs said. “Everything teams want me to do: They want to see me guard multiple positions, stretch the floor and play harder than anyone else on the court. It’s awesome because those three things are things that are in my control.”
Since BYU’s season ended with a loss in the first round of the NIT, the 20-year-old Childs has tightened up his 3-point shooting, which sat at 31.3 percent last season. After workouts which forced him to reckon with the NBA 3-point line, Childs said the college 3-point line feels like “a mid-range jumper.”
He’s also changed up his diet, becoming vegan in the last two months which he said has helped his weight management and joint inflammation (although he misses mac and cheese).
Those tweaks should be a huge boost next season to BYU, which is also expected to welcome back high-scoring guard Nick Emery to the fold after a year-long hiatus during which he was the subject of an NCAA investigation. The Cougars also bring in returning missionaries Connor Harding and Gavin Baxter, both of whom Childs played with in AAU basketball. He’s excited to see how the talent meshes.
“Even if I didn’t come back,” Childs said, “they would have a really good year.”
Fortunately for BYU coach Dave Rose, he doesn’t have to play out that hypothetical.
Childs said in the NBA Draft process — no team told him they wished he were taller or more athletic — he thinks his adjustments to the pro level are fully within his grasp. And his goals align well with those of the Cougars, who want him to also defend multiple positions, stretch the floor with shooting and play hard.
“That’s the best part of coming back for me. The things I need to do to prove I can play in the NBA and the things I need to do for [BYU] this year to be very successful are the same things,” he said. “I think it’s a perfect fit.”