O’Brien: Wildkits honor fallen teammate, win opener

SHARE O’Brien: Wildkits honor fallen teammate, win opener

Evanston made a bold, clear statement to open its season Monday at DePaul Prep. The team took the court wearing warmup shirts that read “Coleman” across the back, with the number three.

It was a tribute to a friend that should have been there with them, a teammate that never had a chance to wear the Wildcats uniform. Dajae Coleman was shot and killed just before basketball season began in 2012.

“He used to play basketball, was one of our good friends,” Evanston junior Malik Jenkins said. “He was shot walking home from a party. He would have been a senior on this team, playing this year.”

Evanston coach Mike Ellis sprung a surprise with his lineup, starting four seniors that would have been classmates of Coleman’s.

“I thought those guys had a good two weeks of practice,” Ellis said. “We have a lot of depth, a lot of guys that have talent equally across the board.”

The Wildkits hung on to beat Mount Carmel 70-65. They built a 60-41 lead after three quarters, but then had to hang on at the end.

“The middle two were our best quarters,” Ellis said. “We got careless and made some mental mistakes in the fourth quarter where we gave them some opportunities to score so, we just have to learn to play smarter as we close games out.”

Star junior Nojel Eastern, who had surgery on his left ankle in early May, checked in midway through the first quarter.

“I feel bad for Nojel,” Ellis said. “He hasn’t played a game in eight months. He comes in, picks up two fouls in the first half and picks up a third right away in the second half. We rolled the dice and let him stay in and he picks up his fourth. There’s a guy that waited eight months to play and he only ends up playing just the fourth quarter basically.”

Eastern finished with four points. Elyjah Williams, a 6-6 junior, led Evanston (1-0) with 19 points and Jenkins added 16.

“Elyjah hit a nice three in the second half and he finished around the basket,” Ellis said. “A lot of his success was due to his teammates being aggressive. When we share the ball it can be any of the five guys that score.”

Nick Chambers led Mount Carmel (0-1) with 25 points and senior Jake Rhode added 23 points.

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