Earlier this month, the Michigan Wolverines landed a bit of a surprise transfer in the form of former Purdue Boilermakers guard Nojel Eastern after just a few short days in the transfer portal.
Eastern — along with big man Matt Haarms — was a bit of a surprise transfer out of the program and it led to some unflattering comments from Purdue head coach Matt Painter. The whole situation came together quickly and ended abruptly, followed now by weeks of radio silence on the matter.
We caught up with Casey Bartley of Hammer and Rails, SB Nation’s Purdue site, to get some insight on the situation from the opposing point of view.
1. Take us through the timeline of Eastern transferring from Purdue and why there seemingly is hard feelings on the way out the door.
“The timeline is as follows — Everything’s fine. Eastern is gone.
From what I’ve gathered, Eastern asked around to some Purdue guys about their experience with the NBA/pro ball and how that was. I haven’t heard anything that he mentioned transferring to anyone. (Head coach) Matt Painter certainly didn’t get a heads up, and is part of why (he) was most upset, I’m guessing. It was sudden, and a shocking to pretty much everyone.”
2. What are his strengths and weaknesses and do you see a path to fixing some of the holes in his game?
“Strengths are easy. He can guard any position. He can shut down any position that isn’t a center. He’s strong and way faster than he should be, and he works his ass off on the defensive end. He doesn’t have the big block or steals numbers that jump out on a box score. Instead you look at the guy he’s guarding and he’s just blanked them out. If he’s taking on a lead guard, it is a guarantee they’re not going to be comfortable at all in the game and they’re not going to score. He’s a great offensive rebounder. He’s a good kid, he really is, a sweetheart.
Weaknesses...everything else? He can’t shoot. He has no post game. He doesn’t have great vision or a feel for the game. His dribbling is nonsensical and without purpose. He’s not aggressive for his own shots or setting up others. He shows flashes of being a good passer, but he doesn’t orchestrate an offense consistently enough for a point guard. He has no go to moves.
Most of those things are caused by a misguided handling behind the scenes. He’s getting pulled in some bad directions and so far, listening to those outside influences have resulted in a plateaued skill set.
Can this stuff be fixed? I think he’ll improve at Michigan. Michigan has had a lot of success with point guards that can’t shoot. It’s a more spread-out offense that relies on high pick and rolls. But Eastern’s no (Zavier) Simpson, and that shot isn’t getting fixed in a year. He’d have to really really improve his handle and aggressiveness and, oh yeah, not shoot 40 percent from the free throw line. It’s a mental lag that’s affected his whole game. He took only 33 free throws last year, mostly because he was afraid to get fouled. If he’s going to make a big improvement it’s gonna have to start in his head. I hope he does.”
3. Give us your evaluation of the move on his part to join Michigan and how that is being viewed by your fanbase.
“Bewilderment. It came out of nowhere. But honestly, there’s a lot of people that will be happy to not have to be frustrated by Eastern going forward. He’s not the kind of player that strikes fear into your hearts because he’ll never put up a bunch of points, but the fans are sleeping on one thing I feel - Eastern offers an elite skill (defense) and that’s so rare to have, even rarer to get in a transfer, and it’ll be missed.
But Eastern has been more frustrating than fulfilling, and as shocking as it was, I know a lot of faithful who aren’t heart broken.
As I said earlier, Michigan’s system has done more with point guards with obvious shot weaknesses, but he’s never shown a consistent aggressiveness or a sense of pace and purpose with his pick and roll game that makes me think he can run an entirely new offense.”
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound guard averaged 4.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists last year for the Boilermakers. He was a two-year starter at Purdue, starting 27-of-31 games last season. He’s a strong defensive player but is a limited shooter, making just three triples in his college career, all during his freshman season.
Unless a transfer waiver is obtained, Eastern likely will have to sit out next season and be ready to go for 2021-22. Michigan now has one scholarship spot remaining in the 2020-21 cycle.
He was the No. 69 player in the country coming out of high school. He has one year of eligibility remaining.