COLORADO SPRINGS -- Evanston senior guard Nojel Eastern has made the first cut and is a finalist for the USA Basketball U17 World Championship team.
The 6-foot-5 Eastern is currently one of 18 players fighting for 12 roster spots on the team that will compete in Zaragoza, Spain, from June 23 to July 3. Making any USA Basketball team is considered one of the biggest honors an American high school basketball player can achieve, and Eastern is hoping to stick with the roster by competing and finding his role.
"I just have to try to do the little things to outwork others," Eastern said. "I know everybody on this court that has USA across their chest is a great basketball player. And I consider myself also to be a great basketball player, and I have to continue to develop. I just have to do the little things that stand out to the coaches."
Eastern has been in Colorado Springs since Friday, as he competed in the first part of the tryout over the weekend. Originally starting with 36 players, USA Basketball cut down the tryout group to 18 players on Sunday afternoon. Simeon's Kezo Brown, the only other player from Illinois to attend the tryout for the U17 team, did not make the first cut for the team.
From here, Eastern will compete in two-a-days with the rest of his potential USA teammates as they will cut down the final roster on Tuesday. After recovering from a broken ankle and only being able to shoot around at last October's USA Basketball mini-camp, Eastern is thrilled to finally be fully healthy and able to compete in such a prestigious tryout.
Many of Eastern's peers that are still left have already won gold medals with USA Basketball. Eastern is hoping for his own opportunity to help with the U17 team.
"It's been great. We've been competing really hard against each other," Eastern said. "I've been competing trying to earn a spot on the team and I've been learning a lot from the coaching staff. Being here is a great feeling. A true blessing."
Regardless of what happens the rest of the tryout, a fully healthy Eastern is going to be a major candidate for Player of the Year this upcoming season and Evanston will likely find itself among the area's best teams.