Michigan basketball lands high-level defender in Purdue transfer Nojel Eastern
It didn’t take long for Purdue transfer Nojel Eastern to find a new and unexpected home in the Big Ten.
Eastern announced his commitment to Michigan in a Twitter post on Thursday, just two days after he entered the transfer portal.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound wing was a staple in Purdue’s rotation during his three-year career in West Lafayette, appearing in 37 games as a freshman and starting 62 games over the past two seasons.
Eastern’s best season was when he averaged 7.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists as a sophomore, helping the Boilermakers win a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and reach the Elite Eight.
However, he wasn’t able to build off that as his production dipped his junior year. In 31 games last season, Eastern averaged 4.9 points, four rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 42% from the field and 48.5% from the free-throw line.
Eastern, a former top-70 recruit out of Evanston, Illinois, is a career 55.8% free-throw shooter and isn’t much of a 3-point threat with a 3-for-16 mark in 104 career games.
While he’s limited as a shooter and is still trying to develop his offensive game, he’s a high-level defender who earned a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team the last two seasons.
Eastern is a traditional transfer, meaning he likely will have to sit out next season — unless he receives a waiver — before playing his final year in 2021-22. He will still count on the roster and take up a scholarship spot for 2020-21.
Purdue coach Matt Painter was surprised by Eastern's departure and had some pointed comments about his decision to transfer during a radio interview on “The Dan Dakich Show” on Wednesday.
"Nojel improved from his freshman to sophomore year, but he took a step back this year," Painter said. "I love him, but he's got to check (his self assessment)."
Prior to entering the transfer portal on Tuesday, Eastern entered his name into the NBA Draft for the second time in his career late last month and it's unclear whether he has withdrawn it. The NCAA announced Wednesday its June 3 deadline for underclassmen to stay in the draft or return to school has been extended indefinitely.
"You have to dominate college basketball or bring something that really translates to that next level," Painter said. "Let's work toward that instead of talking about that. Think big picture and think development and think getting better.
"(Players) don't get the big picture of how good you have to be and how hard you have work to get there."
Michigan has been active on the transfer market this offseason after losing big man Colin Castleton and guards David DeJulius and Cole Bajema to the transfer portal. The Wolverines also lost five-star commit Isaiah Todd to the NBA’s G League and missed out on five-star guard Josh Christopher, who committed to Arizona State.
The addition of Eastern will help provide insurance and fill a need for Michigan down the road. The Wolverines will lose perimeter players Mike Smith, Eli Brooks and Isaiah Livers — if he withdraws from the NBA Draft — after the 2020-21 season. Coupled with the possibility Franz Wagner also leaves early to go pro, the Wolverines could return Brandon Johns Jr., Adrien Nunez, Zeb Jackson, Terrance Williams and Jace Howard, but will lack wing options.
Despite his offensive limitations, Eastern figures to factor into that mix. He’ll provide value as an experienced and versatile defensive stopper who can lock down an opponent’s top scoring threat.
With Eastern’s commitment, Michigan has one available scholarship remaining for next season. The Wolverines have been linked to two other transfer guards: Wake Forest’s Chaundee Brown and DePaul’s Jalen Coleman-Lands.