Provo • Instead of wearing the green jersey that represents the scout team, Yoeli Childs was sporting the darker blue jersey earlier this week in practice. The change in color means one thing: Childs is back.
The senior is free of the metaphoric chains that have kept him sidelined as he served a nine-game suspension, handed down by the NCAA after Childs didn’t file the appropriate paperwork after he decided to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to BYU.
And the 6-foot-8 forward’s return couldn’t have come at a better time. The Cougars (6-3) face their in-state rival Utah Wednesday at the Huntsman Center (6 p.m.).
Childs said the rivalry game would have been a tough one to sit out, but he’s grateful to have the opportunity to be able to play again.
“I haven’t played the Utes up [in the Huntsman Center], but I’m expecting it to be crazy,” Childs said. “I’m expecting a lot of energy. And that’s what college basketball is all about. A rivalry game on the road — it doesn’t get better than that.”
Having to miss the first nine games of the season was tough for Childs, but he's tried to stay positive through the ordeal. It was definitely easier while the team was winning, but was harder to have to stay on the bench during the losses, especially against Kansas at the Maui Invitational last week.
However, he’s also enjoyed seeing other players flourish in his absence. After all, that will help the team improve in the long run.
And the suspension helped Childs work on his mental strength.
“I'm just working on controlling what I can control and trying to help other people, trying to stop focusing on myself,” Childs said. “I felt like it's easy to have some self pity and get down when you're worried about yourself all the time, but if you can go out and try to help other people, then you kind of forget about yourself a bit.”
Last season, Childs averaged 21.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 50.7% from the field and 32.3% from beyond the 3-point line.
When it comes to what Childs will do the remainder of this season, first-year Mark Pope has no idea.
He expects Childs to have an added layer to his game, but hasn’t coached him in a live game since the Cougars toured Europe during the summer. So, he will be waiting, along with the fans, to see what the senior forward can do.
“I do know what we’ll see [in] Yoeli at the end of this trip, at the end of this journey of this season, we’re going to see a spectacular, spectacular, incredibly well-rounded, hard-working, intense player,” Pope said. “What we’re going to see Wednesday is a guy that’s been sitting for nine games and is super, super hungry and it’s his senior year and is really, really talented.”
Having to adjust to not having Childs in the first nine games of the season was just another part of the Cougars’ preseason struggles.
While TJ Haws (knee) and Zac Seljaas (foot) have come back from their injuries and procedures endured during the offseason, the Cougars are still without Gavin Baxter (shoulder) and Jesse Wade (knee).
The team also had to adjust to a new coaching staff.
But grad transfer Jake Toolson, who’s averaging 15.0 points so far this season, believes that’s what the team is about — finding a way to make things happen when unexpected circumstances hit.
“We keep pushing and people step up and we don’t ever give into it, we always try to find a way,” Toolson said. “I’m really happy with the growth that we’ve seen over the first nine games and really excited to have a full team and to kind of take it from here and see where we can go.”