PROVO — Since his senior season at BYU was unexpectedly cut short with the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Yoeli Childs has experienced other unforeseen events.

As usual, he’s adapted, adjusted and been willing to express his views and share his perspective.

In mid-June, as social justice issues flared up around the country, Childs addressed what it’s like as a Black man living in the state of Utah via social media, with a powerful Instagram post that drew considerable attention. 

Meanwhile, Childs has been preparing for the NBA draft, which was postponed and rescheduled for Oct. 16. In addition to working out and staying in shape, he’s been interviewing with numerous NBA teams via Zoom meetings. 

After originally declaring for the NBA draft after the 2018-19 season, Childs returned for his senior season at BYU, averaging 22.2 points and nine rebounds per game. He also became the only Cougar player in school history to record at least 2,000 points (2,031) and 1,000 rebounds (1,053) in a career. Childs finished No. 6 all-time at BYU in scoring and No. 1 in rebounding. 

Childs recently spoke with the Deseret News about his eventful spring and summer. 

Former BYU basketball player Yoeli Childs poses for a portrait at the BYU Marriott Center Annex in Provo on Monday, July 20, 2020. | Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Deseret News: How would you describe the reaction you received to your Instagram post?

Yoeli Childs: It’s been a very unique situation and a unique time. I don’t think there’s ever been a point in history where we’ve had these discussions on such a deep level. I’ve talked to people from older generations and my family and they’ve said, “We’ve talked about this stuff at different times but never to this extent.” It’s very encouraging and it’s such an awesome thing that we’re being so open and having this dialogue as a community. On the other end, it’s been something for me I haven’t been used to doing so much. It’s kind of taking our nation by storm, these conversations.

Being in a state where there aren’t very many Black people — I think Black people make up 1% of the population in Utah — I have friends and family that want to have these conversations every day. I feel responsible to have these conversations. I think it’s very important. But I’ve also had to learn that it can be a little bit draining to have these same conversations for an hour every single day. I’ve had to learn to not feel the weight of the world in terms of trying to explain things to people and educate and have these conversations. I’ve had to learn to say, “Can we talk about this tomorrow? I’ll send you this YouTube link so you can watch and educate yourself this way.” Life is about balance. When unique situations happen in these unique times that we’re living in right now, it’s important to try to do the right thing and push forward but also find balance.

(The Instagram post is) having a great reach because of the amazing people that support BYU. They share it and their friends in other states that aren’t necessarily members of (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) or fans of BYU see the message and they see it reposted by someone they know and whose opinion they believe to be valid. The organic reach has been great because of so many great people that want to listen, learn and share other people’s experiences.

DN: What prompted you to address the subject of racial inequality?  

YC: Like a lot of people in our country, I think the situation with George Floyd kind of caused the emotions to bubble over. That’s what we’re seeing across the country. Years and years and years of feeling a certain type of way about something hits its limit. When I watched that video, I was just distraught. I was angry, sad and hurt. I felt so many of these painful emotions. I felt that it was important to share my experiences. It’s important to educate ourselves. Something we can do as human beings is share our individual experiences with the people that we know and love.

I’m lucky enough to be in a situation where I feel like the entire BYU community and the whole state is full of people that I know and love and they know and love me as well. I felt that it was important to share certain things about my life and my experiences that I’ve had here because of the color of my skin. But I wanted to do it in the right way. I don’t think necessarily pointing fingers and getting angry and getting super upset is the most productive way to do things. It took a couple of weeks of editing and thinking about how I was going to word things to make sure that I say things in a productive way. That’s what matters.

We need to make progress and move forward. Pointing fingers and getting angry isn’t going to do that in the best way, in my opinion. I was really nervous when I posted it. My wife and I were sitting there and I was about to hit “send.” We said, “Should we disable the comments?” People can be so mean on social media. We looked at each other and said, “Through all the ups and downs, this community has had my back. They’ve loved me and they’ve embraced me. Let’s have faith in them to embrace one more thing about me.” And that’s exactly what the community did in a way that I couldn’t have even imagined. Every once in a while you have people say some ignorant things. But for the most part, it’s so encouraging to see a community of people that are good, kindhearted people that want to learn and want to help make the world a better place.

‘It’s what BYU basketball should be’: How coach Mark Pope is blending a new, diverse roster together
BYU coach Mark Pope ‘hopeful’ about status of upcoming college basketball season
BYU basketball’s reloaded roster for 2020-21 is built on transfers

DN: BYU coach Mark Pope invited you to participate in a Zoom meeting with your former teammates about the topic of racial inequality. What was that like for you?

YC: It was great. They’re great guys. The culture here is incredible. There are so many great human beings and I was so blessed to play with them. I wish I could play with that same group forever. It was great to talk to them and have an open and honest conversation about uncomfortable issues. Guys were able to speak up. They mentioned things like, “When I first heard the term ‘white privilege,’ I was ticked off.” We were able to have open conversations about stuff like that. Rightfully so, it’s not a fun thing to hear. But we were able to dive into what words mean. We talked about what ignorance means. That’s a big thing that I’ve been talking about lately. When we say ignorance, we give certain words power that they don’t necessarily have. If I say, “You’re ignorant,” it sounds like I’m calling you “stupid.” But in actuality, it just means that you don’t know about this subject because it hasn’t been in your lives. It’s been cool to have these conversations that are so genuine. We all know we’re coming from a good place. It really is a brotherhood and I’m grateful for those guys.

It would be very wrong of me to assume that people in our state would know about all of these things. It doesn’t make sense. Typically, our lives are centered around us and our families. When Black people make up 1% of the population, it would be pretty rare to go out of your way to look into these experiences. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not knowing. Where I find the issue is when you start to learn and you try to ignore it, which I haven’t seen much of. We all have different experiences in our lives that are hard and challenging. Life is so hard and there are so many challenges already that as human beings, we should be here to make it easier on each other.

As we learn different issues that all groups of people go through, it’s important that we go out of our way to help each other. I think it’s really important to be true to yourself and be who you are. Especially when you’re in a position as an athlete or you’re someone in a position that people look to and follow. It’s important to share things about yourself. Not just about this specific thing. I’ve always tried to do that — with my conversion, with the suspension that I had and feelings about coming back to BYU. This is one more thing in my life that I feel is important to share.

DN: How hopeful are you that things will improve regarding social issues in our country? 

YC: We’re on the right track. It starts with people wanting to learn about one another and becoming closer together. Throughout history, we’ve naturally divided ourselves into groups of people that look like us, talk like us, act like us. One of the most important things we can do is get to know people from different walks of life. That’s where this is starting to go and it’s a great thing. We should also understand that things aren’t going to get fixed overnight. In our lifetimes, there may not be a day where we say, “Awesome, all the problems are over. Racism is over. Homophobia is gone.” Stuff like that. I don’t know if we’ll ever see that but we’re moving in a great direction and I think as long as we are putting in the effort, that’s all we can ask for.

DN: What has it been like preparing for the NBA draft during this unprecedented period? 

YC: It’s been a super weird time but it’s been exciting, too. For the first little while, there was no gym access or anything like that. I was able to go to a gym in American Fork and I was able to work out there. I was able to get some free weights at home and get on a program there so it was kind of different. But I feel like I was able to progress in a lot of ways just by being focused on the daily grind. Now I’m able to get to the gym at BYU and work out here doing different workouts with coaches and my AAU coach. I’ve been able to progress a lot. I think I’m a much better player than I was at the end of the season. I’m excited going forward.

DN: What’s the NBA interview process been like for you?

YC: It’s been awesome. It’s interviewing for your dream job. You can’t ask for a better opportunity. It’s been super fun being able to talk to these teams and getting their feedback on what I need to be working on and how I can improve and hearing about what they think of my game. It’s been really positive and great feedback so far. I’m really excited for the future and opportunities that will be coming up.

DN: Are there particular NBA teams that you feel you could fit in and contribute?

YC: Most of the teams — I think I’ve done 17 interviews — I can see how I can fit into their system. We talk about that during these interviews, how they want to use me. I can bring some skill sets that teams really like. I’m excited to mold my game into whatever a team needs from me.

DN: What are your plans between now and the draft in October?

YC: As we get closer and closer, we’ll see if more information comes out about if there will be a combine and individual workouts. Those would be great but nobody really knows what the case is right now. My big thing is getting better every day. For an extended period like this, for guys that really love the process and the day-to-day grind of getting better, it’s a huge advantage. That’s something that I’ve fallen in love with the last couple of years — enjoying the journey and not the reward. I’m just trying to get a little better every day. I’m working on my body, working on shooting the ball, working on ballhandling, mobility, strength, all of those things every single day. By the end of this, hopefully I come out of this a whole different beast, a better basketball player than I was before.

DN: Some pundits have projected you as a second-round pick. What are your expectations when it comes to the draft?

YC: I’m really not going into it with expectations. I’m really not too worried about what’s going to happen. I’m trying to focus on what I can control. I think there’s a really good chance that I’ll hear my name called. I’m just excited for whatever happens. Whatever team ends up with me, whatever situation I’m in, I’m looking forward to giving that team my all and working 100% every day.

DN: You obviously have options to play professionally for teams overseas. But is the NBA your main focus?

YC: Right now, I’m very focused on the NBA. The overseas options will always be there. I’ve been blessed and I’m lucky enough to be in that position to say that. I’m very focused on my dream of playing in the NBA right now. Whether that’s getting drafted, a guaranteed contract, a two-way, whatever it may be, my focus right now is doing everything I can to staying as close as I can to being an NBA player.

DN: How did coming back for your senior year help prepare you for the draft? 

YC: On the basketball side of things, I was able to improve as a shooter, my ball screen defense and my transition defense improved. All those different areas on the court, including my efficiency, improved. Most importantly, my mentality improved. I’ve always been super competitive but coach Pope really showed me what it means to be a pro. He made like seven different teams out of training camp. I don’t know if anyone has ever done that. He’s taught me the mentality it takes, what you have to bring to practice every single day, what you have to bring to training camp every single day and how hard you have to work. He also showed me different ways of leadership and how to communicate with different personality types. The mental edge that I’ve gained in this last year has been unbelievable. You can’t really measure it.