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BYU’s missing piece is finally free to play

One of the best players in college basketball will make his season debut on Wednesday in a big-time rivalry game.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 08 Beehive Classic - Utah v BYU
Yoeli Childs during his 31 point performance in a win over Utah last season.
Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the first nine games of the season, BYU was an undersized team just trying to survive. At the start of December, the Cougars are 6-3 with wins over Houston, UCLA and Virginia Tech. Oh yeah, and they’re about to bring an All-American-level player back into the fold, just in time for their annual game against arch-rival Utah.

Yoeli Childs is finally free and you should really know about this guy.

Who is Yoeli Childs?

A 6’8, 225-pound senior forward, Childs has been the Cougars’ best player for the past two seasons and a big-time player since he first stepped onto campus.

Childs was a complimentary piece as a freshman on a team with stud big man Eric Mika leading the way. Still, Childs averaged nearly a double-double for the season. When Mika left early to pursue a professional career after that season, Childs became the Cougars’ go-to interior presence. Playing alongside dynamic guard Elijah Bryant, the Cougars had one of the best duos in the country in 2017-18. Bryant and Childs each averaged 18 points per game apiece that season.

As was the case the year prior with Mika, Bryant left BYU early to go pro. That left Childs as the Cougars’ No. 1 option last season. The junior averaged 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds, earning first team all-WCC honors for the second straight season. His scoring average last season was the highest for a BYU player since Tyler Haws, the school’s all-time leading scorer, averaged 22.2 per game in 2015.

After the Cougars’ season ended with a thud in the WCC Tournament, Childs did what he had the year prior and put his name into the NBA Draft. For the second year in a row, Childs wound up pulling out of the NBA Draft after going through the workout process, as the NCAA now allows players to do. His decision to return to school ultimately got him into trouble.

Why was he suspended?

When Childs was going through the pre-draft process this past spring, the BYU Cougars were going through a period of upheaval. Longtime head coach Dave Rose had retired and former Utah Valley head coach Mark Pope was in the process of bringing in his new administration. As the staff turned over, Childs was trying to navigate the NBA and NCAA simultaneously.

Childs signed with an agent — something allowed under specific circumstances — before filling out the proper documentation, which is not allowed because it’s the NCAA.

The BYU athletic department was open with the NCAA and admitted that the staff, and Childs, had made an error in following the new rules surrounding the draft process. The Cougars were fully cooperative with the NCAA investigation as well.

Admitting that you’ve made a mistake, especially one so minor, and cooperating fully with the investigation was the best thing for BYU to do. Unfortunately, the NCAA doesn’t understand what’s best. It understands how to make an ass out of itself, which is exactly what it did here.

Childs was suspended for the first nine games of this season for what amounts to a mishandling of paperwork.

What does he bring to BYU?

Childs’ return to the court is a big deal for this BYU team not only because of what he’s shown in prior seasons, but also because there is nobody on the roster capable of doing anything close to what he does.

The Cougars have been reliant on the three-pointer this season, in part due to the capability of the shooters on their roster and also because they haven’t had an inside presence. Obviously they’ve been playing without Childs, but the Cougars have also been without sophomore forward Gavin Baxter. Last season, Baxter developed into a solid option in the frontcourt and was expected to be a big contributor as a sophomore. Baxter injured his shoulder during a preseason practice and is out for the season.

The lack of big men has led to some rather odd looks for BYU on offense this season. Specifically, 6’5 sharpshooter Jake Toolson posting up defenders on the low block way more often than is ideal.

It’s also resulted in BYU being hapless on the glass. The Cougars grab just one out of every five of their own misses, which ranks bottom-20 nationally, according to KenPom.

Childs’ skill set is the perfect match for BYU’s needs right now. This should come as no surprise. BYU’s roster was put together to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015; this plan was devised with Childs in mind.

The Cougars survived nine games without Childs. Now he’s back and it’s time for BYU to live up to its potential.