Nojel Eastern will finish his high school basketball career as the only player in Evanston’s history to rack up more than 1,300 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists.
But the senior All-State candidate doesn’t care about numbers —- only letters, as in the number of Ws (for wins) the Wildkits can add to their season total.
Eastern made sure the Wildkits finished the regular season on a high note Wednesday night at Beardsley Gymnasium as Evanston drilled Deerfield 69-49 in the Central Suburban League Showcase game matching the South and North division champions.
Eastern notched 10 points and 5 rebounds, and boosted his career record assist total over 300 with 5 set-ups as part of an ETHS attack that featured 21 assists on 27 field goals.
Eastern and senior classmates Malcolm Townsel (16 points), Chris Hamil (12 points) and Elyjah Williams (7 points) were all recognized as members of the CSL South all-conference team in a pre-game ceremony, leading up to Evanston’s 24th victory against just 3 defeats overall. The Wildkits didn’t lose a game on their home court all season.
Eastern is one of 7 seniors who played their last games in the friendly confines of Beardsley and is the only 4-year starter in the Class of 2017. He’ll miss Beardsley, although the Wildkits are planning plenty of practices remaining there as Illinois High School Association postseason play starts next week.
“It’s an awesome feeling, knowing we’ll leave this court with a win,” Eastern said. “It’s been a great four years here and going out with a win means a lot to me. It’s not sad, though. When we win the state championship it’ll be exciting — and maybe a little sad then. I’m feeling a lot of excitement about the state tournament, because I know we have a really great shot at making it to where we want to go.”
“I’m glad for the seniors that we were able to complete the year without losing on our home court,” said ETHS head coach Mike Ellis. “We feel good about that. And those 21 assists on 27 baskets is a sign that our guys are playing for each other. That kind of ball movement is what makes us successful as a team.
“For Nojel, he’s someone who cares about the guy next to him more than he cares about himself, and he sets the tone for that unselfish play. His cerebral game is what allows him to be so productive and put up those (career) numbers. He’s definitely focused. He wants to go to Peoria (site of the state finals), and we’re going to do everything in our power now to achieve that goal.”
Evanston matched up against Deerfield for the third straight year in the CSL Showcase event and could meet the Warriors, now 17-11, again in the Class 4A Niles West Regional tournament championship game a week from Friday. The Warriors are the No. 8 seed in the Waukegan Sectional and would have to get past No. 9 Maine South for a chance to play the Kits again.
Evanston opens regional play on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against the Niles West-Maine East winner.
Evanston’s share-the-wealth approach paid dividends in the form of 8-of-10 shooting from the floor in the first quarter, as Townsel netted 9 points in the period which ended with the Kits on top 19-11. For the game the winners shot 57 percent, or 27-of-48.
Eastern’s 5 assists included a memorable over-the-shoulder back pass to Townsel for a dunk following one of Deerfield’s 14 turnovers. He extended his ETHS career mark for assists and now has 303.
Sophomore Lance Jones totaled 9 points, a team-high 6 assists and 4 steals for the winners.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.