When senior forward Elijah Childs was a freshman, then-senior star and starting forward Donte Thomas kept his words of wisdom simple to the up-and-comer.
“Just hard work, stay in the gym,” Childs said of Thomas’ advice. “He just told me just to play my game and let the game come to me.”
Three years later, Childs’ game has led him to a laundry list of accolades entering his senior season; 2019 Missouri Valley Conference tournament most outstanding player, 2019-20 All-Conference second team, 2020 MVC All-Tournament team and 2020 Preseason All-Conference first team, to name a few.
As Bradley’s top returning scorer entering the 2020-21 campaign, the 6-foot-8-inch star is far from a well-kept secret. His paint presence and left-hand hook have been known by opponents in and out of the Valley.
Following the graduation of leading scorer and volume shooter Darrell Brown and paint defender Koch Bar, Childs’ role as a scorer and defensive juggernaut will become even more prevalent.
Despite the seniority, Childs’ mindset remains the same as in previous years.
“I feel like the team does look to me to get us going, if we are struggling, to go get a bucket and rally everybody,” Childs said. “But my mindset doesn’t change. I want to win. I like to win, even if I’m not scoring, I can do other things. Rebound, block shots, bring guys along, pick guys up.”
According to Bradley head coach Brian Wardle, the senior’s off-court contributions have been innumerous as he’s picked up a leadership role, much like Thomas led him.
“It’s kind of how our program has grown,” Wardle said. “You want your juniors and seniors to guide and help the freshmen and sophomores along, and Elijah is a perfect example of that … He’s a vocal and by example leader, and you love having leaders that can do both.”
However, it’s tough to find a game where Childs fails to contribute in a big way in the scoring department. Throughout the 2019-20 season, he averaged 14.8 points per game, along with 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
It seems as if Childs shines the brightest in the spotlight. In the final game of his sophomore season, he led the Braves with 19 points in their narrow first-round loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, in a road loss against nationally ranked Memphis, Childs picked up the Braves when Brown struggled, scoring 21 points against soon-to-be NBA draft pick, Precious Achiuwa.
“I think it just says I live for those big games,” Childs said. “If I feel like we’re underappreciated or somebody’s talking about another team more than they’re talking about us, don’t give us respect, I take that to heart and I go out and play.”
In this season’s non-conference slate, the Braves’ Dec. 22 date with Mizzou is already circled on the calendar for Childs. During the Kansas City native’s senior year at Lee’s Summit West High School, Childs’ Titans lost the state championship basketball game in blowout fashion at Mizzou Arena.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the game,” Childs said. “I got a little revenge coming for Mizzou … It just means a lot for my family, they can come to the game and it’s close to home and I just want to put on a good performance for them and get a win.”
That chip-on-the-shoulder mentality has done the Braves well the past two seasons on their way to back-to-back MVC Tournament Championships and based on Childs’ demeanor, that won’t be changing.
Even as the awards, honors and championships have accumulated for Bradley’s lone senior in the frontcourt, if you ask him, there’s still plenty to accomplish.
“I’ve put the work in, I’ve waited my time and I definitely feel like this is the year that we get that number one spot and I get the player of the year,” Childs said.