Provo • Yoeli Childs won the news conference.
Dressed to the nines in a suit and blue tie, the face of BYU basketball explained why, for the second straight offseason, he chose to stay as No. 23 in Provo.
Childs isn’t going pro. Not yet.
Instead, in a room filled with teammates, coaches and family members, the senior-to-be explained why he isn’t pursuing the money and what he wants out of his last season as a Cougar.
“I just want to go all out,” Childs said, “and make something special happen for BYU.”
There’s still work to be done, he said, to help get Cougar basketball back to where he believe it belongs: part of the equation in late March, part of deep NCAA Tournament runs, part of making the Marriott Center the ear-splitting crowd it can be at its roaring apex.
That’s why, hours before the deadline for NBA Draft entrants to decide whether they were in or out, Childs ultimately went with a return to Provo to finish out his career and play for first-year coach Mark Pope. The BYU star said he also had several lucrative professional offers from overseas, explaining, “I love a lot of things about the game and money is definitely not atop the list."
The 6-foot-8 forward led BYU and the West Coast Conference in scoring (21.2 points per game), rebounding (9.7 rebounds per game) and double-doubles (17) last season. He was also selected as an All-West Coast first-team honoree his junior year.
But another round of exploring draft options left him with more work to be done in order to reach his NBA dream. Scouts and front-office executives told Childs he must improve defensively to get there. His versatility as a defender at his size and position is imperative, Childs said, for him to potentially hear his name called on draft night next summer.
His individual goal this season isn’t conference MVP. No, his sights are set on winning the WCC Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s that zeroed in on improving the other side of his game. Pope joked that he’s been stalking Childs the past two weeks in the lead-up to the BYU’s star’s decision. With each passing day, however, Pope said his staff believed that Childs could surprise folks and come back.
“In his heart, I think he is a big-picture dreamer [and] believer,” Pope said.
Pope added that the staff had been able to work with Childs on the court in the past week. That only added to the nervousness of whether or not he’d return to BYU. Childs has only scratched the surface of what he can be when he graduates from BYU next year, Pope explained.
“He’s got a bunch of parts of his game that are just at his fingertips,” added Pope. “They’re not out of reach.
“I think he can re-write the story about who he is as a basketball player this season. I believe that. I really do.”
BYU returns more than 75 percent of its production from last season in almost every statistical category. Alongside Childs, former BYU guard Jake Toolson returns to the program after time with Pope at UVU and former Utah prep product Jesse Wade is eligible to play after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after leaving WCC powerhouse Gonzaga.