One year ago, 6-foot-5 guard Nojel Eastern had to watch the USA U16 tryouts with a boot on his foot while he stood off to the side shooting jump shots. Heading into Tuesday’s practices for the U17 team, Eastern has put himself in contention to make the final 12-man roster.
“Of course watching last year helped,” said Eastern. “Seeing what the coaches wanted out of players and seeing what it takes to make the USA team. I’m just coming out and seeing what I saw last year. Seeing what the people that made did and also what the people that didn’t, what they didn’t do. So I just wanted to use that to my advantage.”
In the spring of 2015, Eastern suffered a dislocated ankle at the Lexington EYBL. The injury kept him from playing throughout the summer and into the fall. Now fully healthy, Eastern has been eager to compete against some of the top players in the 2017 and 2018 classes.
“I think I’ve been getting better and better each practice,” said Eastern. I’m just trying to do whatever makes the team. I can play multiple positions, whether it’s the point guard, two guard, or small forward, I’ll do whatever I need to do to make the team. In the games, sometime I got on the wings and sometime I brought the ball up.”
At 6-foot-5, Eastern has the size and strength of a wing, but at heart, he is a point guard. As a tall, lefty with a versatile game, Eastern’s game can sometimes look similar to that of Jalen Rose.
“Passing, of course, and just being able to control the game,” said Eastern. “If we need to slow the ball up, or if we need a bucket. I think I can do it all. Rebound, shoot it. A well rounded player.”
“New schools, Michigan, a lot of them call my mom, but the one that calls me is Michigan.”
During the spring AAU season, the Evanston (Il) native did not put up eye popping numbers, but he did have several strong games for his Meanstreets team such as a 15 point, nine rebound performance against Team Takeover.
“It’s a great feeling being able to go to Peach Jam,” said Eastern. “I’m just going to try and go down there and do what Meanstreets hasn’t done in a long time and win Peach Jam. It just feels good to be back.”
“After the first EYBL sessions a lot more schools have been involved,” said Eastern. “The head coaches text me more and I get more calls. New schools, Michigan, a lot of them call my mom, but the one that calls me is Michigan.”
“I want to go through the summer,” said Eastern. “See how everything goes and how that falls out. I think I’ll probably cut my list to 5 or 6 at the end of July. That’s what I’ve been talking about with my mom and my trainer. Get through Peach Jam and then drop it down.”
When Eastern does get closer to a decision, he knows exactly what he’s looking for in a program.
“Somewhere I can come in and play,” said Eastern. “No one is guaranteed a starting spot, but some place where I can work my way up. If I can beat out a senior, can I play? Some schools, he’s a senior, he has to play. I just want a fair shot, I’m not looking for any guarantees. I know you have to work your way up, but I just want a fair shot. I want to develop and get an opportunity.”