“Yoeli Childs, West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year.”
It could happen.
Childs said all the right things in the news conference Thursday confirming his return to BYU for his senior year, talking about his gratitude, getting his degree and returning the program to the NCAA tournament. He’s also using next season as a launching pad for another run at pro basketball, taking to heart what NBA coaches, scouts and general managers have told him that he needs to do to be a great pro.
“One of those things is on the defensive end,” Childs said. “For this team this year, obviously the ultimate goal is to make the tournament and make a run. My ultimate individual goal is going to be defensive player of the year in this conference. I think that’s very possible. That’s what I have my individual sights set on.”
BYU head coach Mark Pope is OK with all of it, adding that the way Childs described his reason for returning as “almost poetic.”
“The beautiful thing about Yoeli is that his pursuit of his professional career is exactly in harmony with what’s going to make this team special,” Pope said. “How often do you have a guy that is committed as he is, to sit there, look at all the things and say ‘I want to be the defensive player of the year?’
“He understands that it’s really going to change the trajectory of his career and that is also going to be a foundation of what this team does. When you get those two things in harmony, that’s really special.”
Childs decided Wednesday afternoon – hours before the NBA deadline – he was returning to BYU for his senior season. His junior year was outstanding – 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game and a first team All-WCC selection – but Childs’ resume still reads, “NCAA Tournament games: 0.”
He wants to take another stab and changing all of that. Childs talked about bringing the excitement and magic of an NCAA Tournament run to Provo.
“You know, I’m going to be able to be a pro for a really long time,” he said, “but I only have one more year to do something special here. I want to make a big run with these guys and I want to come back and get my degree. Those things together were huge for me. I just wanted to come back and give it one last swing.”
Childs had workouts scheduled with a half-dozen NBA teams and offers to play overseas.
“For sure I had some overseas opportunities for what some people would consider to be a significant amount of money,” Childs said. “But if I played this game just for money I wouldn’t be here right now. I love this game and I love a lot of things about this game and money is definitely not at the top of that list.”
Childs declared for the NBA Draft on March 28, just a few days after long-time Cougar coach Dave Rose announced his retirement. Childs hired an agent and appeared to be completely set on starting his professional career. In the last week, Childs worked out for the new BYU coaching staff and the possibility of completing his college career started to become a reality.
“He let us work with him on the court the past week,” Pope said. “Getting to get hands on him on the court, that got me. It blew my mind and got me so excited. He showed me things on the court that I hadn’t seen from him before. There are a bunch of parts of his game that are just at his fingertips and not out of reach. I think he has a real commitment to develop right now and we’re all excited to see what he can do.”
Childs said he talked to former BYU players who have made the jump to pro ball, including Kyle Collinsworth. The former Cougar point guard sang the praises of Pope and assistant coach Cody Feuger, who were on the BYU coaching staff when Collinsworth was playing in Provo.
“The two biggest things were probably their tenacity and their vision,” Childs said. “This coaching staff is going to be in the gym all day long. I’d go into the gym at 11 at night and they’re up there (in their offices). I don’t know what they’re doing up there at 11, but they are up there working. They are a coaching staff that’s going to give it their all and work extremely hard.
“The vision that they have is special. You guys have all seen it, that they bring a belief and that the impossible can happen. That something special can happen, and I’ve bought into that 100 percent. That something special is going to happen this year and we’re going to make it happen.”