Provo • The last thing BYU’s basketball team needs is a distraction as it heads into another West Coast Conference tournament that it must win in order to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.
That’s why Yoeli Childs is refusing to become one.
The big elephant in the room regarding Childs this season has been whether or not it will be his last in a Cougar uniform. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound junior tested the NBA draft waters last spring before deciding to return, and has not said what he will do this time around.
“That’s not really where my thoughts are right now,” Childs said after Thursday’s practice at the Marriott Center Annex. “My thoughts are on tomorrow, having a great practice, then having a great game the next day and taking this team as far as we can go.”
The Cougars (19-12, 11-5) tied for second with Saint Mary’s in the WCC race but got the third seed for the conference tournament and will play in the quarterfinals on Saturday night (10 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) at Orleans Arena against either San Diego, Portland or Santa Clara.
Coach Dave Rose said the team will travel to Las Vegas on Friday, practice there that afternoon, then watch one half of the game that will determine their opponent on Saturday.
“It is a little unsettling, not knowing who we play,” Rose said.
It could be unsettling for BYU fans if Childs, the team’s leading scorer (21.5 ppg.) and rebounder (9.8 rpg.) leaves for the professional ranks with one year of eligibility remaining as Elijah Bryant did last year and Eric Mika did the year before that. But Childs isn’t giving any clues regarding what he might be thinking.
“Obviously, it is something you think about a little bit,” he said. “But my focus is with this team right now. I am so grateful that I get to go play with this group of guys.”
Childs, named an All-WCC First Team performer for the second straight year on Tuesday, is probably leaning toward leaving, several people close to him have said throughout the season as he has accumulated 17 double-doubles and 18 20-point games.
What do his teammates think?
“We just want what is best for him. He’s a brother. He is family. We want him to be where he feels comfortable. We want him to do whatever he feels is best,” said fellow junior Zac Seljaas. “It is kinda between him and his family and what his thoughts are. Whatever he decides, we are going to support him 100 percent.”
Both players said they will be plenty motivated to win the WCC tournament for the first time ever and reach the Big Dance.
“I think back to when I was a kid and watching March Madness and just being in awe watching all the games and the great players,” Childs said. “I always looked at it and thought, ‘I can’t wait until that is me.’ I think a lot of our guys feel that way and it definitely motivates us and drives us to get to that level.”
After being left off the 10-member All-WCC First Team, junior guard TJ Haws, a second-teamer for the second straight year after making the first team as a freshman, should be motivated.
“Hopefully it is a healthy thing,” Rose said. “I think that the majority of the media and coaches would tell you that he is one of the top 10 players in the league for sure. The numbers didn’t work out that way for him. We will see how he responds.”
Haws collided with San Diego’s Isaiah Wright in the final minutes of BYU’s 87-73 win over the Toreros last Saturday, but has not shown any ill effects in practice this week.
“He’s been full go,” Rose said.
Freshman forward Gavin Baxter missed every practice last week and then the USD game with an illness. He’s back practicing and should be able to play Saturday.
“It is his wind [lacking], mostly,” Rose said. “His timing has been good. I mean, first day back, first competitive eight-minute session, he had three blocks right at the rim. … Hopefully we will be able to still count on him for 23-28 minutes that he has been giving us. We might have to do it a little bit different way, with shorter periods.”
Saturday’s WCC Quarterfinal Game
At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
No. 3 BYU vs. TBA, 10 p.m. MDT