BYU’s Yoeli Childs Delays NBA Draft, Leans on Family and Faith
PHOENIX -- When you think of a 21-year-old standout college basketball prospect, you probably think of a single guy who likes to live it up while chasing his dreams of making it to the NBA.
BYU’s Yoeli Childs, who was an early-entry candidate for this year's draft, is the complete opposite of that.
On Wednesday, Yoeli announced through his social media accounts that he will be returning to Provo, Utah, for his senior season. There, he will have another year to strengthen his foundation of family and faith—from his wife, Megan, his high school sweetheart whom he married last year, to the Mormon church, which he joined during his time on the men's basketball team at BYU.
“My relationship with her is everything,” Yoeli tells CloseUp360 after a recent workout at Arizona State University, where he was preparing for the draft. “It’s the best part of my life and it always will be. It’s really crazy how my relationship with my wife has impacted all areas of my life. It has made me a better person and it has made me a better basketball player.”
Most guys his age enjoy playing video games and going out. Not him. After a long day of working out and going to school, he looks forward to heading home and spending time with Megan. They binge-watch shows like New Girl and Queer Eye on Netflix, while chowing down on his homemade chicken enchiladas.
“It’s easy to stay focused when you just go home every night and hang out with your best friend,” he says. “The single life with your roommates is fun and everything, staying up and playing video games and doing all of that. But just being able to share your time with the person you care about most in the world is everything.”
That was one of the main things that attracted him to Brigham Young University while turning down high-profile programs like North Carolina, UCLA and Stanford. He wanted to focus on school, settle down and pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA one day. BYU offered a focused environment.
“I’ve always been kind of more laid back, more worried about getting in the gym, and just focus on basketball and school,” he says. “A lot of other places I went to, the guys were all about partying and going out.”
His teammates there had the same mindset and also valued religion. Some were missionaries and heavily involved in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS)—something Yoeli, a native of South Jordan, Utah, was starting to explore. During his freshman year at BYU, he joined the LDS and converted to Mormonism.
“Church means so much to me,” he says. “It keeps me humble, it keeps me grounded and it gives me confidence in knowing what I need to do in my life. It really helps me believe that if I try as hard as I can and I live righteously, I try to live how my savior lived—that things will work out the way it’s supposed to.”
In some respects, Yoeli’s spirituality was preordained. His name means “Do the Will of God” in Hebrew.
And while he now feels compelled by the spirit of his faith, Yoeli originally began going to church for a more earthly reason: to spend time with Megan. He’d ask her to hang out on Sundays, but the only way they could was if he went to worship with her. So he did, and now it has become a big part of his life. He ended up falling in love with the church—a prerequisite to potential marriage with Megan.
“When we first started dating, I told him I wanted to get married in an LDS temple and so we both have to be LDS to do that,” she says. “And so he was, like, ‘Okay, good to know.’”
The two met when Yoeli was 16 and Megan was 17. She was a volleyball player and he was an emerging hoops star. And though they both attended Bingham High School in South Jordan, they initially connected online.
“I had never talked to him in person, and then he DM’d me on Twitter and he was, like, ‘Can we go out?’” she recalls. “And I was, like, ‘Sure.’ So yeah, our first time hanging out was like our first date.”
Though Yoeli committed to BYU and Megan went to play volleyball at the University of Utah, before transferring to Utah Valley University, the two remained inseparable. They made it a priority to still see each other weekly and talk every day on the phone.
“The schools aren’t super far,” he says, “so we were able to see each other on the weekends and stay focused on our sports during the week.”
Megan has continued to play a big role in everything he does. She keeps him grounded, focused and prepared for anything thrown their way. She also influenced his decision to declare for the draft a year early.
“I probably played a big factor just because we’re married, but it has been really exciting,” she says. “He has been ready to do this and I feel good about it, too, and I’ll support him in whatever he feels good with, especially his basketball career. It’s something that not everyone gets to do, so it’s really exciting.”
Since he was seven years old, Yoeli has dreamt of becoming an NBA player. When his teachers asked him what he wanted to be when he was older, he insisted on basketball as a profession—even when he was told to pick something else.
“I’ve always had that drive and that’s always what I’ve wanted to do,” he says. “But I think just over this past year, going to these workouts, watching a ton of NBA games and seeing where I could fit in, has been really eye-opening to me and I feel like I can really see where I fit.”
After his sophomore year, Yoeli tested the NBA waters and decided it was best for him to return to school. This past season, he averaged 21.2 points and 9.7 rebounds, and was named to the All-West Coast Conference team for the second straight season. He was also one of 10 finalists for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award, which is given to college basketball’s top player at that position.
As a senior, Yoeli will have more opportunities to draw attention from NBA scouts while once again carrying the Cougars with the skills, knowledge and confidence gained from his participation in the pre-draft process.
After first testing the NBA draft waters in 2018, Yoeli Childs returned to school to repeat as an All-West Coast Conference performer and finalist for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award. (Sydne Griffith).
Through his preparations for this year's draft, Yoeli made a concerted effort to improve his perimeter game and expand his range. He's spent a lot of time in the post in college, but knows he has to work on his three-point touch to get a shot in the NBA, literally.
Though his draft process is over for now, he worked out for a handful of teams, including the Memphis Grizzlies, and loved every minute of the overall experience.
“There are so many people that would love to be in that position, and you can be stressed out about it and you can think whatever you want about it,” he says. “But the biggest thing I think is gratitude, and I really think I’m just blessed to be in the position I’m in, and I’m working hard and having fun with it.”
The biggest motivating factor for him to succeed at the next level is to be able to provide for his family, especially his mother, Kara, who raised him and his brother, Masay.
“She’s my inspiration,” Yoeli says. “She’s my motivation. She’s my hero.”
Kara worked three jobs to support her kids following her divorce when Yoeli was three years old. She eventually became a full-time teacher just so she could have a similar schedule to them.
“Something I always tell myself when I’m working out, getting to that point where you don’t want to do it anymore, it’s time to go shoot at night and you don’t want to do it, I always tell myself that my mom worked way too hard for me to quit now, for me to give up,” Yoeli says. “And if I can have half the work ethic she has, then I know I’ll be successful.”
Kara taught math in college for about 16 years, working all through the summers teaching classes and tutoring at her house at night. Though she worked around the clock, she rarely missed any of Yoeli’s games.
“She maybe missed two games my whole life growing up,” he says. “We played 100 games a year because we’d play in our age and play the year up, AAU. It’s just crazy.”
Yoeli may not have had a father figure in the household, but he insists “my mom is better than any mom and dad together.”
“She has always been there. She has always given me anything I’ve ever needed to be successful,” he continues. “I really just model a lot of things in my life after how she treats people.”
Life hasn’t always been easy for Yoeli, but with his mom as his inspiration and his wife as his chief support, he’s prepared to parlay his experience to date into a brighter future—as both a basketball player and a man.
“I think we all have different circumstances and we can all look at different things that we want to blame, and different things are hard for different people,” he says. “But it’s really about making the best out of your situation and deciding that you have to become the best man that you can be.”