My Two Cents: Don't Be Surprised if Nojel Eastern Never Plays at Michigan
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Nojel Eastern was still a Purdue basketball player on Tuesday morning when he texted his coach, Matt Painter, and said he needed to talk. Eastern told him, out of the blue, that he was going to enter the NCAA transfer portal after three years with the Boilermakers and look for another school.
Then, less than 48 hours later, he's already committed elsewhere, to Big Ten rival Michigan no less. Just like that.
There are a wide range of things that jump out to me about those 48 hours, and much of it leaves me shaking my head. What jumps out the most, of course, is that Eastern, a 6-foot-7 perimeter player from Evanston, Ill., who's going to turn 21 next week, continues to get bad advice.
That's an ongoing thing.
Eastern has twice entered his name into the NBA Draft, despite the fact that he has no NBA game right now. But for years he's had people in his ear telling him that he going to be the next big thing. But what he's proven in three years at Purdue is that he's a very good defensive player with major offensive liabilities.
He averaged 4.9 points a game this year, never made a single three-pointer, shot only 42 percent from the field and made just 45.5 percent of his free throw. That is not an NBA resume.
"Name me a 6-6 guy that can't stretch the defense in the NBA that's going to have a role,'' ESPN analyst and longtime college coach Seth Greenberg said the other day on Dan Dakich's radio show. "Dude, you have to learn how to shoot the ball.
“Let me ask you something. That guy played about 25, 28 minutes a game. Does he think all of a sudden he is going to change schools and he is going to find a jump shot?”
Playing time is always an issue
Eastern, despite losing his starting job because of ineffectiveness, still managed 25.5 minutes per game with Matt Painter this season. That was never enough for him, and he's had many people around him who's complained publicly about that, especially his benching and losing most of his minutes at the point guard spot.
That's why this whole transfer thing raises an eyebrow. In a matter of hours, he had a new school, and even though there's no solid proof otherwise, it sure seems odd that all of that recruiting could get done in less than two days.
Was their tampering? Was something locked up before he entered the portal? Was someone else working on his behalf with Michigan?
Nojel Eastern is an impatient kid. He's got people in his ear telling him that he's a surefire NBA player. He'd turn pro right now if someone would have him, and that's where the bad advice comes in. He's not an NBA player. Not right now, and it's not even close.
Now here's where it gets interesting. Eastern, who did not graduate yet from Purdue like teammate Matt Haarms did, should have to sit out a year according the NCAA transfer rules. (Haarms can play immediately at BYU as a graduate transfer). But Eastern is banking on the NCAA softening its stance on transfers and being able to play right away.
The NCAA has been all over the map on transfer decisions the past few years, but transferring simply for more playing time has never been a viable excuse for the NCAA to allow a waiver.
Eastern is NOT going to want to have to sit out a full season. That's why I won't be a bit surprised that he bails on Michigan and seeks out a professional job for a few dollars, maybe overseas, instead of disappearing on a college stage as a redshirt for a year if the ruling doesn't go his way.
When you don't play for a year, no one can tell you how great you are.
There's also this: Part of the reason he walked away from Purdue was that there were a legitimate concern that several of the Boilermakers' newcomers — incoming freshmen Ethan Morton and Jaden Ivey and redshirts Brandon Newman and Mason Gillis — would cut into his playing time.
Well, who's to say that won't happen at Michigan, too? Michigan's roster is a bit depleted right now because of its own transfer issues — Juwan Howard had three kids enter the transfer portal — and they could certainly use the body in the 2020-21 season.
But what if Eastern has to sit out a year and Michigan recruits several studs at his position this year? There's no guarantee he has a big role in 2022 that would be big enough to impress NBA scouts then.
That's two years down the road. Does Eastern have the patience for that, especially with all these people in his ear telling him how great he is?
"If it's about playing time, then practice harder,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told Dakich on Friday. "I get sick and tired of things too, but I battle through it. Players need to do that, too,''
Izzo applauded Painter for his criticisms of how Eastern and Haarms left his program. Izzo also said that too many times, players are given bad information about how good they really are, and that leads to a lot of these misguided notions about how good a player really is.
"We have 200 underclassmen (entering the NBA draft) and there's, what, 60 picks,'' Izzo said. "I think it's our job to protect these kids sometimes. They hear the wrong things. I've told people, if they were ready for the NBA after three years, that they should go. But a lot of kids aren't ready, nowhere near ready. I think everybody needs someone to blame now. Self-evaluating is the hardest thing to do.''
What's wrong with transfer-rule changes
Izzo and Painter are both on several coaching committees, and they have a great relationship that goes back a lot of years, even into the late 1980s when Izzo, a young assistant coach, was recruiting Painter the player. There is mutual admiration, and there is also agreement that this proposed rule that players can transfer one time in their career without sitting out a year is a very bad thing.
It will make roster management practically impossible if hundreds of kids are coming and going every year. And make no mistake, there will be tampering. College coaches will be recruiting other college kids just as hard as they recruit high school kids now.
It's a massive Pandora's box, one Eastern is hoping to be able to open right now.
"I think there is tampering going on a lot of times, and I don't think the NCAA understands that,'' Izzo said. "For an AAU guy to call, or assistant coach at the high school coach to call, they do it all the time, and say to me,' hey so-and-so wants to transfer. Would you take him?' Most of those guys are set up before they even enter the portal.
"That's what bothers me. You remember when (Wisconsin's) Bo Ryan got in all that trouble, and Phil Martelli got in trouble, because they wouldn't want to release their guy? The only reason they didn''t want to release them was because they knew somebody was tampering with them. We've got to protect ourselves some way. I'm not sure there's an exact rule (on tampering). What are they going to do? When I think of these people, how would you like to be a kid? They might have an AAU coach pulling him, somebody else pulling him. And the coaches can't really speak up.''
Part of the problem, of course, is that the players love all the attention of being courted by schools again. Izzo didn't name Haarms specificially, but he talked about a "Big Ten player'' who entered the transfer portal, and it was clear he was craving a lot of attention.
"I felt like I was watching "The Bachelor,'' Izzo said with a laugh. "He narrowed it down to 25, then narrowed it down to 15 and then to five. If anyone thinks that's a healthy thing for a kid, I'm telling you it's not, because there's going to be a letdown.''
One thing that's been overlooked a lot in all this is that Painter actually didn't want Haarms and Eastern to leave. He had talked to them several times since the season ended. They talked about things to work on. They talked about coming back "and helping us win the Big Ten.''
But they both sought greener pastures. Haarms, with degree in hand, did carefully review his next choices before picking BYU. Eastern, who doesn't have that degree, clearly had a game plan in mind in leaving for Michigan so quickly after talking to Painter.
But with no transfer waiver, this may all backfire on him. And if he never plays a minute for Michigan, I won't be the least bit surprised.
Related stories on Purdue basketball
- WHAT TOM IZZO SAID: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo appeared on Dan Dakich's radio show Friday and applauded Matt Painter for how he handled his transfer situation. CLICK HERE
- WHAT MATT PAINTER SAID: Purdue coach Matt Painter didn't hold back any punches during his 26-minute radio interview with Dan Dakich on Wednesday, criticizing Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern for how they left the program. CLICK HERE
- TOM BREW COLUMN: What's wrong at Purdue after these two high-profile transfers? Absolutely nothing. CLICK HERE