Battling Back

2017 G Nojel Eastern is working his way back to the court and is optimistic about his return. See how his recruitment has persevered throughout his recovery.

Sitting on the sidelines for a majority of the spring and summer evaluation periods has been tough for 2017 guard Nojel Eastern of Evanston (IL). After sustaining a significant ankle injury at the EYBL Lexington event, Eastern has spent most of his spring and summer rehabilitating himself.

But Eastern thrives on hoops, and there was no way to keep him away from the game he loves. So even when he was sidelined with an injury, he was still there in the gym supporting his teammates the whole way.

"Just seeing a future team like our 16U team playing hard has been good,” he said. "But I missed playing basketball, even just at the YMCA.”

Unable to get out on the court much this spring and early part of summer, Eastern went back to the film room, studying his sophomore season at Evanston, looking for ways to improve.

"I watched a lot of film on myself from the entire basketball season,” he said. "I wanted to see how I could do better and where I can make smarter plays. I wanted to look at my movements and my body and see where I could improve on anticipating and making the right decisions."

One thing Eastern has been focused on that is completely independent of the injury are his leadership abilities. One of the best of his peers, he knows his teammates will be looking to him for encouragement and guidance this coming season.

"It’s going to be a big thing for me,” he said of becoming a leader. "I have to be a leader to my teammates. We’ll have a lot of juniors this year, so I need to be a leader for them as much as I possibly can. Coming off of the injury, they’re excited for me to come back, and I’m excited to play with them again."

And at this point, Eastern isn’t terribly far off from making his return to the hardwood. Fortunately for him, the injury was not as severe as originally thought, and now he is only a few weeks away from resuming full athletic activities. Though even with an ankle brace on, he has been getting up shots when able.

"I have about 6 more weeks before I can start running and jumping,” he said. "I do my last checkup on August 21st to make sure it’s fully healed. I can get back to my training, moving around, and playing basketball. In the meantime, I want to get my strength back."

Physically, his rehab will take time, but even with the film study in the offseason, he knows that the mental aspect of the game will take time to re-focus. He hopes that his efforts to rehabilitate his ankle will allow him to zone in on shaking off the rust mentally.

"Mentally, I might be a little nervous, but I won’t be scared,” he said. "I’m going to do everything I can physically to be ready so that I don’t have to deal with that, but I want to be ready mentally when I come back."

Despite the injury, Eastern is still considered one of the top recruits in his class, especially in the state of Illinois. And though his spring hoops schedule slowed down, recruiting stayed active, and he is still collecting offers and hearing from quality programs.

"A lot of schools have been calling me consistently,” he said. "I’m hearing from Purdue and Michigan State a lot. They ask me about summer classes and my injury and all that. I got offers from Marquette and DePaul in the last month and visited both."

Illinois is another school that has been heavily involved with the rising junior. The Illini have been involved in Eastern’s recruitment from the start, and the relationships with the staff have only grown stronger over time.

"I talked to them in the last week with Coach Parham,” Eastern said. "It was a fun conversation. But little things like that have a big impact. Coach Groce keeps in contact with me. It’s great hearing from the head coach."

With the most critical portion of his rehab approaching, Eastern said he is not letting recruiting take too much of his time and effort right now. Rather than take visits this summer, he said he hopes to get healthy first and foremost. However, he is still a kid, and wants to take some time to enjoy his summer as well.

"Right now I’m going to focus on rehabbing, and I’ll probably take a vacation to my friend’s house,” he said, "but other than that I don’t have any visits planned."

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