Surprise, surprise: Star forward Yoeli Childs will return to BYU basketball team for senior season

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Yoeli Childs (23) tries to get past Santa Clara Broncos forward Henrik Jadersten (3), in basketball action between Brigham Young Cougars and Santa Clara Broncos at the Marriott Center in Provo, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.

Provo • New BYU basketball coach Mark Pope has landed a major recruit, and he didn’t even have to fly to Africa to get the double-double machine. Yoeli Childs never left Provo.

In a surprising development, BYU’s high-scoring forward is returning to the program for his senior year after going through the NBA’s evaluation process for the second straight year. Childs had declared for the draft on March 27, the day after 14-year coach Dave Rose announced his retirement, and many believed there was no way he would return, especially after the coaching change.

But Childs made the startling announcement Wednesday on Twitter, saying “Let’s make some magic.”

Wednesday was the final day for underclassmen to withdraw from June 20’s draft, and Childs apparently made that decision after consulting with several former coaches, the agent he had legally signed on with last month, and BYU’s current staff.

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound star’s return gives Pope’s program a huge lift, because to date the new coach had been unable to fill Childs’ shoes. A couple of big men from Utah Valley — Wyatt Lowell and Richard Harward — are joining Pope in Provo, but must sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, barring a successful appeal for a hardship waiver.

Childs was not invited to participate in the 2019 NBA Draft Combine, a factor that may have led to his decision to return to BYU. Although he hired an agent — Keith Kreiter — he still has college eligibility under a new NCAA rule.

Childs improved every season he has been at BYU. He averaged 9.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game his freshman year, 17.8 points and 8.6 rebounds his sophomore year and 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds this past season.

He made the All-WCC First Team for the second straight season in 2018-19 and was one of 10 finalists for the Karl Malone Award, which goes to the top power forward in college basketball.

“Yoeli is great, man,” Pope told reporters a few weeks ago when it appeared the Bingham High product was leaving BYU. “He is really excited about seeing what he can do in the future. … I think he’s been really straightforward with me since I took the job. He’s been committed to pursuing this and kinda figuring things out, and so I am kinda sticking my nose in his business a little bit.

“But I am excited for him to go through this process and see where it takes him and kinda let him mostly do the talking in terms of what he is going to do and what he wants to do. And speculating on that is probably not my place to do that.”

Childs had 17 double-doubles and 18 games of 20 or more points while often fighting through double-teams last season. He scored 31 points in three consecutive games — against Weber State, Utah State and Utah.

Childs married Utah Valley University volleyball player Megan Boudreaux last August, a few months after going through the NBA evaluation process the first time. He returned to BYU after testing the NBA waters in spring of 2018 and getting feedback that he needed to improve his 3-point shooting and defense.

“The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but it was still a blast to play with these teammates and just be around them the whole season,” Childs said at Rose’s retirement news conference. “I couldn’t have asked for better teammates.”

Now they will be reunited — except for guard Jahshire Hardnett, who is transferring to Montana, and wing Rylan Bergersen, who is transferring to Central Arkansas.