PROVO — During Monday’s practice, senior Yoeli Childs, whom coach Mark Pope calls “one of the most talented players in the country,” switched from the scout team to the starting lineup.
Now that his NCAA-mandated nine-game suspension is over, Childs is ready return to the floor with his teammates.
And he’ll do it against archrival Utah Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center.
“It’s exciting. That would have been a really tough one to sit out of. I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” Childs said. “I’m excited to go out and play with this group of guys and finally be back out there on the court.”
What do Childs’ teammates think about his imminent return?
“It’s awesome. The energy at practice today was great. He’s breathing new life into this team. He brings so much,” said senior guard Jake Toolson. “Everyone can breathe a breath of fresh air now that he’s back. We’re just excited to get him acclimated and get him rolling with us. We did our part while he was out and now we get to throw him in there. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Without Childs, the Cougars posted an impressive 6-3 record, including wins over Houston, UCLA and Virginia Tech.
“I’m going to go out and play as hard as I can — crash the glass, run the floor, just try to do all the little things to help this team win,” Childs said. “The guys are on a roll right now and everyone’s playing great. I’m just going to try to add a little bit to that.”
Childs, a two-time All-West Coast Conference First Team selection, averaged 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds last season.
A year ago against Utah at Vivint Arena, Childs received a baseline pass from TJ Haws, took one dribble, soared high in the air and threw down one of the most emphatic and memorable dunks in program history.
That night, that slam made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top Plays.
Childs finished with 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds to lead BYU to a 74-59 victory over the Utes.
But he said he’s not feeling pressure to duplicate that performance Wednesday.
“There’s no pressure at all. If I go out and have the game of my life, great. If I go out and stink it up, great,” he said. “I’ll still think that I’m a good basketball player and I’ll still think that we’re a great team. All I’m worried about is getting a win.”
Childs said he’s benefited from being on the sidelines for the first nine games, watching and playing the role of helping his teammates improve.
“It’s been really good to support my guys,” he said. “To see some of these guys flourish and learn how to win with me off the floor in the long term is going to help us a lot.”
“Yoeli has a clear vision of the player he wants to be. He’s really smart and observant,” Pope said. “He’s really paid attention as this team has tried to learn together on the court. Yoeli’s had to learn that way off the court. He’s taking everything in. … Clearly, he’s an incredible talent. It’s going to be a work in progress.”
Pope isn’t sure what kind of performance to expect from Childs in his first game back.
“I don’t know what we’ll get from Yoeli because I’ve never had the chance to coach him in a real game,” he said. “I do know what we’ll see from Yoeli at the end of this journey — of this season — we’ll see a spectacular, an incredibly well-rounded, hard-playing, intense player. What we’ll see on Wednesday is a guy that’s been sitting for nine games and is super, super hungry in his senior year and is really talented and probably feeling a lot of pressure. We’ll help him through all that and he’ll help us through all that. We’ll see where we end up.”
For Pope, it’s a relief to have the 6-foot-8 Childs to provide much-needed help to the Cougars’ inside game.
“It’s a miracle that we made it through nine games without being devastated by foul trouble on front line,” Pope said. “It’s a credit to Kolby (Lee), Dalton (Nixon) and Zac (Seljaas) and Connor Harding. Those guys managed to make it through as we were holding on by a thread. Now, we have a little bit more space, a little breathing room with fouls. Those are real positives for us.”
Toolson is thrilled to have a more complete team with Childs on the floor.
“I’m really happy with the growth that we’ve seen over the first nine games,” he said, “and I’m really excited to have a full team and take it from here and see where we can go.”