COLORADO SPRINGS -- Nojel Eastern is nearing a full return to the basketball court. The Evanston junior guard took part in the USA Basketball Junior National Team Minicamp over the weekend with 50 of the best players in the country. It marked the first time Eastern played high-level competition since dislocating his ankle during an AAU tournament in Lexington in April.
Although Eastern has not been fully cleared to go full speed quite yet, he did take part in some drills with the other camp participants and got to receive some attention on his recovering ankle from USA Basketball's training staff. The weekend trip for Eastern to a USA Basketball event marked the second time he has been to Colorado Springs as part of his rehab process. He hopes to receive more encouraging news at home next week.
"I go back in for physical therapy next week and they'll run their tests on me and send it to the doctor and see if I'm good to go from there," Eastern said to CSN. "I'm just taking it easy. I'm not trying to hurt anything. Make sure I get cleared."
At USA Basketball, Eastern didn't appear to be favoring the recovering ankle and the 6-foot-5 guard moved without much limitation. Eastern clearly wasn't pushing himself or doing anything too strenuous on the ankle, but it was a very positive sign in his comeback. The trips to Colorado Springs are important to Eastern as he hopes to continue to compete in USA Basketball events in the future when he's at full strength.
"It's been great. Still having the opportunity to come out here and represent [USA Basketball] is a great feeling," Eastern said of the camp. "I got a chance to play in the first part the first day and the second session and just trying to get back in the groove of things so I can get back [to USA's next event in May. It's been a great experience so far and great being around with the great talent."
When Eastern couldn't compete in drills or scrimmages this weekend, he was often on a side hoop getting up shots and trying to establish a rhythm as the high school season approaches.
Recovering from the ankle injury hasn't slowed down recruiting for Eastern as Cal, Creighton, DePaul, Georgetown, Illinois, Iowa State, Marquette, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Saint Louis, Seton Hall and South Florida have stopped in for Evanston open gyms this fall. Duke is also expected to see Eastern in an open gym next week.
Recruiting is going to be a process that continues for Eastern, but in the short term, he's focused on returning to an Evanston team that has a lot of talented juniors and sophomores. Playing without Eastern this summer, the Wildkits showed that they can play with some of the area's best teams without their star junior. With the versatile Eastern returning for the high school season, Evanston hopes to be a force this season.
"We have a really talented team, a lot of juniors on the team. Everybody has put in a lot of work over summer. We have a couple of big games and tournaments this year. We just want to make our mark."
If Eastern is healthy and contributing at his normal levels this season, he's expected to be a CSN All-Area candidate after a strong sophomore season for Evanston.