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‘In a good spot’: Former BYU star Yoeli Childs has waited a long time to make NBA dreams come true

Childs is an underrated prospect projected by some to go late in the second round of Wednesday’s NBA draft.

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BYU forward Yoeli Childs dunks the ball as Utah and BYU play in the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City Dec. 4, 2019. Childs is looking forward to Wednesday’s NBA draft and is hoping to hear his name called somewhere in the second round.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Even from a young age, former BYU star Yoeli Childs had a clear vision of where he wanted to end up.

At the age of 4 or 5, he loved having a ball in his hands and decided he wanted to play in the NBA. In the first grade, his teacher asked the students in his class to write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. Childs put the words “NBA player,” much to the teacher’s dismay. 

“I remember going back-and-forth as a first grader because my teacher wanted me to put something realistic. I refused to do it,” he remembered. “I’ve always wanted to play in the NBA. I’ve always had that faith and belief in myself. That’s a credit to my mom and the people that were around me while I was growing up that instilled that belief and confidence that I could do anything.”

After stellar careers at Bingham High and BYU, Childs is standing at the doorstep of his NBA dream. The NBA draft, which has been postponed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will finally take place Wednesday (6 p.m. MST, ESPN).

Childs, who declared for the NBA draft after his sophomore and junior seasons before returning both times to BYU, plans to watch the draft unfold with his family. “I’m excited,” he said. “We’ll be tuned in, waiting to see what happens.”

The way Childs sees it, waiting longer than usual due to the pandemic has worked in his favor. “For guys that love the process and love the game,” he said, “it might be an advantage. It’s extra time to work.”

Some mock drafts have Childs being selected in the late second round. 

“I’m expecting the unexpected. You never know with the draft. Right now, my agent and I feel like we’re in a good spot. We moved the needle,” Childs said. “There’s a bunch of teams that seem very interested. Right now, I feel like I could go anywhere in the second round. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s anywhere in there. But the draft is crazy, especially the second round. No matter what happens, I’ll definitely be excited and ready to work.”

“There’s a bunch of teams that seem very interested. Right now, I feel like I could go anywhere in the second round. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s anywhere in there. But the draft is crazy, especially the second round. No matter what happens, I’ll definitely be excited and ready to work.” — Yoeli Childs

Over the past several months, Childs interviewed with 29 of 30 NBA teams, all via Zoom. He also participated in the virtual NBA Draft Combine — his took place at the Utah Jazz facilities — where he recorded a 38½ max vertical and was measured with a 7-foot wingspan. He finished in the top 10 among prospects in four of five categories. 

“I’ve gotten a lot leaner, ready for that more up-and-down, perimeter-oriented game,” Childs said. “That showed.”

Childs finished as BYU’s all-time leading rebounder and No. 6 in scoring. He also became the only Cougars player in school history with at least 2,000 points (2,031) and 1,000 rebounds (1,053).

Yet Childs, 22, has been flying under the radar going into the draft, which has served as a motivating factor for him. Earlier this year, he told a reporter that whatever team that drafts him “is going to get a steal.”

What did he mean by that?

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BYU basketball player Yoeli Childs speaks to the media during a press conference Thursday, May 30, 2019, about returning to BYU after withdrawing from the NBA draft.

Nate Edwards

“I definitely think that I’m a little underrated as a prospect. I’m someone that’s gotten better every year. I feel like I’ve improved in the things that teams wanted me to improve in,” Childs said. “I have the mentality of someone that loves to win, someone that wants to get better and someone that loves the game and plays with passion. I’m going to come in, turn some heads and make a name for myself, represent my family and represent BYU.”

After his junior season, Childs announced he would forgo his final season of eligibility. A couple of months later, he chose to return to BYU and play for first-year coach Mark Pope.

The NCAA later determined that Childs was not in compliance with new rules instituted regarding players declaring early because he signed with an agent before filing the proper paperwork. The NCAA suspended Childs for the first nine games of the season. But he made the most of his limited time with the Cougars, averaging 22.2 points and nine rebounds per game. 

While testing the NBA waters, Childs received a lot of feedback from teams regarding how he could get better, including improving his 3-point shooting. Childs saw his accuracy from 3-point range jump from 32% as a junior to 49% as a senior.

“I feel more confident than I ever have as a shooter. I feel like that’s something that I can come in right away and contribute as a guy my size to stretch the floor and be versatile in terms of floor spacing and also decision-making in the pick-and-pop and the short roll,” Childs said. “Being my size, there are two big things, being able to stretch the floor. I feel very comfortable doing those things right now.” 

During the pandemic, Childs has worked out with former BYU star Kyle Collinsworth, who has NBA experience. 

“He was a great role model and mentor to me, teaching me every day the intricacies of what it means to be a pro — the details,” Childs said of Collinsworth. “We worked out every day for pretty much the whole summer. He was a huge influence on me and I feel like I definitely have a leg up being able to  be around such a great professional like that.”

Childs focused a lot of his time on his defense, working with defensive strength coach Kenny Hardy. Collinsworth introduced Childs to Hardy. 

“I’ve definitely grown a ton as a perimeter defender,” Childs said. “I’m excited to get to training camp and show my improvement.”

Childs improved dramatically every year he was at BYU. He believes he’ll be able continue to follow that trajectory. His experience in Provo has given him confidence that he can handle whatever comes his way at the next level.

“I would be more nervous and anxious if I hadn’t gone through the things that I went through at BYU. I’ve learned the lessons I’ve learned and grown my faith during my time there.” — Yoeli Childs

“I would be more nervous and anxious if I hadn’t gone through the things that I went through at BYU,” he said. I’ve learned the lessons I’ve learned and grown my faith during my time there. I feel like right now I’ve put in the work and I’m doing everything I can. I know that I’m going to end up where I need to end up.”

Some NBA teams like Childs’ maturity and dedication — his work ethic, his consistency, his ability to deal with adversity, as well as the fact he’s married, has a strong faith and is grounded.

“It’s important at the NBA level to have a lot of guys on your team that are level-headed, team-first guys that are ready to show up every day,” Childs said. “That’s something coach Pope really instilled in me and talked a lot to me about, was the idea that there are a lot of personalities in the NBA and that’s one of the hardest things about being a coach in the NBA, is having to manage different personalities and expectations.

“To be a guy that comes in that the coach loves to coach is definitely key. From the tutelage I’ve had from coach (Dave) Rose and with coach Pope this last year, I’m ready to show that I belong in the NBA, a guy that players like to play with and coaches like to coach.”

No matter what happens on draft night, and beyond, Childs is confident that everything will work out. 

“I feel blessed as a basketball player that I’ll have the option to play somewhere for a really long time. My dream and my passion has always been to play in the NBA. I don’t play basketball to make money,” he said. “I don’t play for that kind of stuff. That’s something that comes with the game. But I play because it’s what I love and playing in the NBA is my dream. I’m definitely going to do what I can to get in that league and stick in that league.”