BYU Cougars star forward Yoeli Childs is one of the most accomplished prospects who will be available in the upcoming 2020 NBA Draft.
Childs became the first player in BYU history to score 2,000 points and record 1,000 rebounds during his time with the program. He earned 1st Team All-West Coast Conference honors and was a Top 5 Finalist for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year award in 2019-20.
The 6-foot-8 forward caught up with HoopsHype about his four years at BYU and his plans are moving forward.
Note: This transcription has been minorly edited for clarity. Full video of Childs is included below.
How have you been preparing for the NBA draft?
Yoeli Childs: We’re definitely living through some unique times. It’s very different from anything we’ve ever seen before. I’m trying to do everything I can to stay prepared. I’m lucky enough to be a person that has access to a gym. I practice shooting drills in the morning. By the afternoon, I head back home to eat, hit the weights, and then I head back to the gym at night time to practice more shots. I’m done with school, so I’m doing all I can to stay focused. I’ve been doing everything I can to work on my body and my game everyday.
You were able to get your degree by going back to BYU for your final season. How important was that for you, and how has it helped shaped your character?
YC: It’s an amazing feeling, being able to get a degree. It’s very important to me and my family. Going back to school was something that I was really excited about. I was very happy about going back to a great school like BYU.
What drew you to playing for BYU in the beginning? What was your experience like playing there for four years?
YC: It’s the greatest university in the world, in my opinion, and I didn’t always know that. Growing up, I wasn’t a member of the church and I never really thought that I would go to BYU. It was the people at BYU that drew me in. I remember being a senior in high school when I met Coach Rose. We had a conversation about where I could be, and I’ll never forget that moment we shared. I was asking him what he could see my role being, what his vision was and where he saw me playing as a freshman. I’ll never forget what he said: “I’m not going to promise you anything but a fair chance. Because if I promise you something, I’m promising 13 other guys something, and I’m not going to do that. I think you’re someone who could make the most out of a fair chance.” I loved that integrity. I loved that honesty. Those are the types of people you meet at BYU. They’re hard-working people who put their heads down, grind and love each other. The whole community is a family. My experience here has been incredible. BYU turned me from a boy to a man and now I’m ready for the next step because of them.
BYU had a Top 10 offense this season and was a delight to watch. What was your role in that offense and how did you guys become such a dynamic winning program?
YC: I think my role was to space the floor and to be someone who could throw the ball into the post and force the defense to make decisions. We had so many different options offensively and so many different guys who were willing to make plays, who could score on all three levels. We’re one of the few offenses on the college level that, almost at all times, had five guys on the floor who could shoot, dribble and pass. I think our versatility on the offensive end helped us out a ton. I’m just glad I was able to contribute to that. It was such a fun year with a special group of guys.
BYU finished as the top-ranked team in three-point percentage within all of college basketball. I think a lot of people were surprised by your three-point percentage. Your jump shot improved so much during your four years in college. You were shooting nearly 50 percent as a senior. Where is it at right now?
YC: I feel very confident in my three-point shooting ability. I’ll give a lot of credit to head coach Mark Pope and the staff here. My first three years, I was able to get better at shooting the ball because I would constantly be repping out shots. That was the way that I knew how to get better at the game of basketball. I would take something that was a weakness, and I would constantly rep it out until I was good at it. I was able to progress that way. Going into my senior year, the staff taught me to constantly deliver at practice. They taught me, not just to go out and shoot a bunch of shots, but to be very deliberate about what you’re working on. We really prioritized three things. The first thing we worked on was getting the ball to come off of the right fingers. My ball would come off of my pinky and ring finger a lot. We worked on being mindful of having the ball come off of my pointer and middle finger. Secondly, we worked on being consistent in the shot. If you look back at my film, most of my three-point attempts come off of me stepping into my shot with my left foot, then my right foot. I think that consistency helped me a lot. Thirdly, we talked about owning my finish. I used to pull out of my shot, but we talked a lot about coming off the shot with a strong finish. I think the combination of those three things elevated my shot to the next level.
You are an incredibly efficient finisher on pick-and-pop possessions. How much did you work on your role in that play style during your time at BYU?
YC: A ton. Coach Pope is unbelievable at teaching the pick-and-roll, straight-line drives and concepts of catching the ball first. He’s done it all throughout his career at Utah Valley University. He had some amazing guys in the pick-and-roll and in the pick-and-pop. It’s something that we worked on a ton in the offseason and throughout the season.
What kind of offensive role do you envision for yourself at the next level?
YC: I can be someone that comes in as a high-energy, high-character and high-IQ guy. I’m going to carve out a role for myself as someone who crashes the offensive glass, plays hard, communicates on every possession and shows up to practice every day and competes like it’s the NBA Finals. Every team needs guys like that. I know that with some of the natural gifts I have, I’m able to finish with touch in different ways around the rim. I’m someone who’s able to stretch the floor and create space for a lot of high level drivers in the NBA. I would love to come in and create a role that way, and continue to expand my game every year.
In what ways will you be able to contribute to a team immediately?
YC: I think I can immediately contribute with my energy and my ability to rebound the basketball. They always say that rebounding translates well from college to the NBA. I think every team needs guys who rebound at a high level. Another thing I think I can do well is space the floor. Most NBA teams are transitioning into a five-out style of play and having at least four shooters out on the court. I think I can stretch the floor, rebound the basketball, play hard and make high-energy plays.
I completely agree. I know your defensive rebounding percentage was Top 10 in the nation. I believe that’ll be a huge part of your identity moving forward as well. Where does that instinct come from? Where did you get an elite-level mentality for defensive rebounding?
YC: I’ve always loved rebounding. As a kid, I would go to YouTube and watch NBA greats like Dennis Rodman. I loved watching him. I’d watch his highlights almost every single day. I loved the way that he fought for positioning and the effort he played and competed with. I realized that it doesn’t matter how skilled you are or how tall you are, if you compete and understand rebounding angles, you can be an elite rebounder. I think it really is all about effort.
What are some things you’ve picked up while watching “The Last Dance“ documentary? Obviously, Dennis Rodman is highly featured in that, but I’m curious what you’ve learned from it?
YC: I love the intensity that those guys had. Watching Michael Jordan and the way he competed every single day, I think, is the biggest takeaway for me. You can’t have all this success without falling in love with the process and the journey. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m embracing the day-to-day work and falling in love with getting better every single day.
What NBA players come to mind when you are selecting film to watch?
YC: My No. 1 guy has always been Paul Millsap. I love his game. I think we’re a similar size and build. I love the way he was able to come into the NBA and create that role where he was a hustle guy. He was a cutter. He rebounded the ball well. He played hard. Every single year he was able to expand his game. He was able to shoot the ball better. He improved his handles. He improved his lateral quickness. I think he’s a guy who has a route that I can follow. The other two guys I love are Draymond Green and Kenneth Faried when he was in Denver. A lot of times when we talk about Draymond, we mention his defensive versatility and I love that, but I also love his playmaking abilities in the open court. I think he’s very good in transition in knowing when to give the ball up, knowing when to push it all the way to the rim, and knowing when to stop and hand the ball off to a guard. I love his decision making in those types of plays. With Faried, I loved the ferocity that he played with. Those are three undersized guys with similar size and builds, and there’s different things that I love to pick from each of their games.
How would you describe yourself as a distributor and someone who can make plays for others? I think that’s part of your game that gets underrated. Your assist percentage was almost 20 percent, which is among the best of guys who are 6-foot-8 or taller in the NCAA.
YC: I love playing basketball the right way. It’s as simple as that. I’ve always had a feel for finding open guys, passing up good shots for great shots. That’s what made our team special. That’s something I can bring to the next level. I can be a guy that can make the right decision. It’s really important for teams to have guys that can shoot, dribble and pass. I know that the passing part is underrated at times and I think it’s very important for any elite offense.
Where do you see your role in the NBA on defense? I think at 6-foot-8, you’ll be playing a lot of the four, but you just as easily could play as a three or as a five. Whom do you see yourself guarding at the next level?
YC: Right now, I see myself as a four in a small-ball lineup. I think I’m more laterally quick than I am able to show. I’m really excited for the opportunity to not worry about foul trouble and be able to give my all on that end of the floor. I’m in that four or five spot. But I love to work and I love to get better. I’m going to continue expanding my game, get quicker, become more athletic and eventually be someone who can switch onto any player on the court.
Realistically, we’re probably not going to have an NBA combine. If we did though, what exercises do you think you’d thrive in?
YC: We did some tests with our team using BAM Athletics. They do a lot of stuff with the combine. If you compared the numbers that I tested to last year’s combine, then I’d be Top 3 in every category for forwards. I think I’m a lot more athletic than I get credit for. I have about a 37-inch vertical, 7-foot wingspan and an 8-foot-10 standing reach. I can’t remember exactly what my lane agility numbers were, but I think I would have been number two for forwards last year.
I also think seniors are going to have a bit of an advantage in this draft process than previous years because you have more of a body of work to pull from. What do you think teams are going to see from you and be impressed by with your film?
YC: I think the biggest thing they’ll recognize is that I’m someone who continually gets better. All four years at BYU, I got better. I take pride in my work ethic and my ability to get better every single day. I always think in the long scheme of things. I feel that if I can get a little bit better every day, then I’ll be able to accomplish where I want to be. I think they’ll see that I get better every year, that I rebound the ball and that I’m a great teammate who communicates with the other players. They’ll see my progress in being able to stretch the floor, my transition defense and my ball-screen defense.
You played mostly on the ball as a senior but how do you think that you’d do in an off-ball situation, especially in the beginning of your career?
YC: I feel like, the last couple of years especially, I’ve been the focal point of the offense. Defenses are really tuned in on me. I think I can be even more efficient as a player when I’m playing in a different role that has me stretching the floor, getting dump-offs, cutting hard and all of those different areas. I think that I can take the things that I am good at with my touch, my ability to finish around the basket, stretching the floor. I can use that to become an even more efficient player.
I know that you guarded the jump-shot really well, maybe a lot better than people realized. Players shot only 24 percent off the catch and 22 percent off the dribble when you were guarding them. What are some of the ways that you prioritized guarding the jumper and how did you become such an elite perimeter defender in that sense?
YC: That was a huge emphasis for our whole team and a huge emphasis for me personally. I give so much credit to Coach Pope and the staff over at BYU. They were honest every single day. We would do drills from warm-ups, all the way to the end of practice that focused on not giving up catch-and-shoot threes, guarding the middle and working on different angles. I believe it was a combination of great coaching and a great work ethic. Not just by me, but by the entire team.
What advice would you give to Matt Haarms or to another player heading into the BYU program next year about playing for Coach Pope?
YC: Trust him. Trust Coach Pope. He says all the time that there will be days where we’re going to be pissed at each other. There are days where you will want to punch [him] in the face, but he always said that that’s part of the game. That’s how you’re going to become great. No matter what, trust him. Going into this last season, we went over to Italy. He talked to us about the concept of playing for each other and not worrying about yourself. Not worrying about individual stats or accolades. Understanding that if you play the right way, everything else takes care of itself. I’ve never been around anyone else who was so good at inspiring confidence in his guys and teaching them to play the right way. I love that dude and I love that program. Anyone who plays for the program I would say, “Trust in that staff and trust in your teammates, because if you do those things you will not only have a great season, but you’ll also have the most fun playing basketball that you’ve ever had.”
What are some of your favorite memories playing for BYU? What are some things that you’ll look back on and appreciate?
YC: It’s funny, I have a ton of great memories. There are big ones like when we beat Gonzaga when they were No. 1 my freshman year. My senior night this year. First time being ranked in however many years, playing the No. 2 team in the country on our senior night, being able to knock them off, and playing such a great game. The greatest memories are the brotherhoods that I made. The little things in the locker room or training rooms after practice. The inside jokes you get back and forth with the guys. I talk to someone on my team every day. The relationships I’ve built from those small moments and the moments off the court have been amazing. We’re a brotherhood and we’ll be brothers forever.
Have you had a chance to talk with some of the BYU guys from the NBA, and if so, what advice have they given you?
YC: These guys are unreal. The guys who have helped me throughout my career are guys like Brandon Davies. He played a couple years in the NBA and now he’s in the Euroleague. Also, Kyle Collingsworth, who played with the Mavericks a couple years ago and now he’s in the G League. Those two, since my freshman year, would come play pick-up with us. Afterward, I’d ask them questions and pick their brains. They’d give me advice on how to get better and ways to improve my game for thirty minutes every time after pickup. Those guys have been helping me out for four years, and I’ll always be grateful for them. I’m really excited for the opportunity to be that guy for this next generation of BYU basketball players.
I think you’ll be a great advocate and player to have in their corners. What are some goals that you have for yourself moving forward? What are some things that you’d like to accomplish on the court?
YC: My biggest goal is to get better every single day. I would love to have an amazing rookie season and take the world by storm. I understand that there’s a process that’s bigger than me. I understand that God’s in control. As long as I try to live right and do everything I can to get better every single day, then everything else will take care of itself. That’s my number one goal. I’m trying to shoot the ball better every day. I’m working on my body, my handle, and my lateral quickness every day. Those are some of the more detailed goals, but I know that if I get better every single day, everything will work out.
What about some of your goals off the court? I know that you have a family and a lot of other things beyond basketball that you’re thinking about.
YC: I’ve been married for about a year and a half. I think the most important thing that you can do is to be an amazing husband. I try to take care of my wife every day and make sure that she feels special. It’s important to be a good person, especially to the people closest to you. I love spending time with my family and my in-laws. It’s important for me to treat everybody the same way, be kind to people, and not be thinking about myself so much. I think service is very important to me as well. I want to be a good example for the next generation of people coming out. I want to do everything I can to make them proud, and show them that you can accomplish your dreams while being a good person. You can accomplish your dreams by doing things the right way, building yourself up, building the people around you up, and doing all of that without tearing others down.
What are some of the things you like to do when you aren’t playing basketball?
YC: I’m super laid back off the court. I love spending time with family, either watching a series with my wife or reading a book with her. It’s kinda weird, but I’ve been getting into baking lately. We’ll see if it sticks, but it’s been pretty fun and relaxing during this quarantine. That’s my weird hobby.
What are some of the things you like to bake?
YC: I’ve been baking banana bread chocolate chip cookies. They’re a little healthier than chocolate chip cooking, but I’m not going to say that they’re healthy. They absolutely slap. They’re moist and they’re bomb. I try to eat one of them and give the rest away.
In terms of movies, television, and music, what are some of the things that you’ve been watching and listening to?
YC: The show my wife and I have been watching lately is called Person of Interest. It’s a crime thriller type of show. I like to listen to chill music. I’ve always liked rap, hip-hop, RnB, that type of stuff, but the guys I’ve been listening to lately are Frank Ocean, Sam Smith and Troye Sivan. More chill and laid back artists.
Who do you listen to before a game?
YC: I’ve gotta be chill before a game and try to relax as much as I can. I’m super competitive and get amped up before a game. Some people try to get really hype, but for me, I gotta calm myself and bring my emotions down.
How would you describe your competitive nature in comparison to other athletes that you’ve met?
YC: I’m insanely competitive. You can ask any of my teammates or coaches. I’ve always been that way. My family makes fun of me because I was the kid who would flip the board game if I lost. I almost hate to lose more than I love to win. We have a leader board at practice that keeps track of every single win you have in drills and every win your team gets. I’m always at the top of that list. Every single drill means the world to me. I treat it like it’s the biggest game of my career. I love to win, I love to compete, and I’m definitely a fighter. No matter what the situation is, no matter what the score is, or what the outcome is, I’m always coming to compete and play every game like it’s my last.
What kind of player and person do you want NBA teams to know they’re getting out of you?
YC: I think they’re going to get a person who likes to compete every day. Someone that’s going to fight and treat every single day at practice like it’s the biggest practice of their life. I’m going to do things the right way. I’m someone who’s going to be honest and has integrity. I’m going to be someone that coaches don’t have to worry about. Coach Pope has talked to me before about what it takes to succeed in the NBA. Ther are so many personalities and different guys to worry about. I’m one of the guys you don’t have to worry about. I’ll bring it every day. I’m going to get better every day. I’m going to do what’s asked of me and become elite at whatever I need to become elite at.
Given the productivity that you had and the efficiency at which you did it with, why do you think that people have been sleeping on you? Does that fuel you at all?
YC: I try not to think about it too much because it’s out of my control. In college, I posted so much. In the NBA, you don’t post up very much. Most posts are taking advantage of switches and things like that. I think there would be something that goes into that. I’m not too worried about what other people think because I can’t control that. I’m going to focus on what I can control and that’s working on my game, getting better every day and treating people right. I feel as long as I do that, everything will work out like it’s supposed to. I think whoever gets me is going to get a steal, because I’m someone who’s going to get better every single day and every single year.
I think that you are definitely a NBA player, but what are your thoughts on the G League and potentially starting out there? How do you think that you would do in that kind of environment?
YC: I think that I’ll thrive in that environment. It’s been my dream to play in the NBA, but I just want to get better. If a team feels that playing in the G League and developing there is what’s going to get me better then that’s what I want to do. I try not to get too focused on what’s directly in front of me. I want to look at myself and my career when I’m 27, 28, or 29 years old. Where am I going to be then? I try not to focus on what’s right now and what’s directly in front of me. I try to look at the bigger picture. I want to be in whatever situation is going to help me get better.
I think that’s the right approach and that’ll pay off in the long run. Anything else do you think would be interesting to add? Whether it’s about your background, your family, or anything else that you think people would be interested to hear about you?
YC: We could talk about my family a little bit. I give all the credit and everything that I am to my mom. I grew up with a single mother. She did everything for me and my younger brother. She sacrificed for both of us. The relationship that we have is deep. I’ll always be grateful for her and the things she’s done for me and continues to do for me. When you have someone in your life like that, when you have someone that literally sacrifices everything in their life for you, you get perspective. You understand what it means to be a leader. What it means to sacrifice. What it means to be a part of something bigger than yourself. My mom’s my hero. Everything that I am is because of her. I always say, if I could be half the person that she is, then I’ll be a really successful person. My mom’s amazing, my family’s amazing, and I’m blessed to have the amazing people in my life that I have. For people watching and listening, it’s important to know that regardless of your circumstance, the best life for you is your life. I’ve thought that now going into this great opportunity, and I’ve thought that while things weren’t so great. It’s important to love the people around you. I’m grateful for all the relationships I’ve built, starting with my mom, all the way to my wife, and all the coaches and friends in between. I’m a grateful and happy person. I think we all need a little more joy and positivity in our lives.
After the game is all over, could you see yourself coaching, becoming a front office executive, or other basketball-related jobs?
YC: I love basketball so much, I can’t imagine my life without it. I think the most important things to me are basketball and helping people. I would love to coach some day and be able to impact young men in the ways that coaches have impacted me. I would also love to give back and start a foundation for single parents all across the country. That’s the situation that I lived through, and I thought it would be amazing for people to help others in situations like that. After my career, who knows what’s going to happen, but I’d love to do those two things.