Auburn university wheelchair basketball player Jake Eastwood, a Jackson High School alum. (Photo by Karl Robinson)

Auburn university wheelchair basketball player Jake Eastwood, a Jackson High School alum. (Photo by Karl Robinson)

After leg amputation, local man becomes wheelchair hoops star

Mill Creek native Jake Eastwood dedicated his life to wheelchair basketball and recently made the U.S. men’s U23 national team.

By Jacqueline Shaner / Herald Intern

Everything happens for a reason.

This quote helped Auburn University wheelchair basketball player Jake Eastwood through many trials in his life.

After having his left leg amputated in eighth grade, there was a period where Eastwood, a Mill Creek native and Jackson High School alum, was not able to do some of the things he enjoyed, especially his love of playing sports.

Eventually, Eastwood discovered a new passion: wheelchair basketball.

“Basketball filled my gap of competitiveness and the space in my life that was missing for about a year,” Eastwood said.

As he navigated his new life and new sport, Eastwood thoughtfully wrote down a small list of major goals he wanted to accomplish on a piece of scratch paper.

Making the international U.S. men’s U23 national wheelchair basketball team was on his list.

Even though he knew this would be challenging, Eastwood was willing to put all his effort into the sport he was growing to love.

After dedicating his high school and college years to basketball, Eastwood attained his goal and was selected for the U.S. U23 team and recently headed to Phuket, Thailand, for an international competition scheduled for Sept. 8-16.

His journey to the U23 wheelchair team started before college. Eastwood played in a prep league in high school and by his junior year college coaches began to recruit him.

He eventually landed at Auburn, but found out fast that competing in college was a whole new ballgame.

“In high school there was less work that I needed to put in to be successful,” Eastwood said. “When I got to college everyone was good, I couldn’t be lacking in any of my skills.”

Balancing basketball with school and a social life was difficult for Eastwood early on. To make the U23 team while maintaining good grades and keeping up with his interests outside of basketball would require intense self-discipline.

“It was challenging to get used to at first, especially because I like to have a life outside of basketball,” Eastwood said.

But the work never stopped. After each game at Auburn, the team huddled up in their coach’s office and looked at the big television set up to review the game, win or lose.

“Nobody likes losing, but we show good sportsmanship,” Eastwood said.

Looking back over the game and long talks in the locker room helped both Eastwood and his Auburn team become better.

He knew there would be bumps in the road, but he continued to work hard and persevered through tough times.

“No matter what is thrown at you, don’t let that get in the way of what you’re trying to make out of your life,” Eastwood said. “Remembering where I’ve started and how far I’ve come helps me through tough times.”

That positive attitude and hard work finally paid off in a big way.

Tensions were high as names were called in a room filled with all the players who tried out for the U.S. men’s U23 team. The people selected for the team had to keep their reactions humble and calm. Eastwood let out a sigh of gratitude and a big smile when his name was called.

His ultimate goal? To make the U.S. Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Paralympics Team.

But first up is a huge opportunity to make a statement in Phuket.

“I’m super excited to have the opportunity to represent the USA and go play other countries with kids my age,” Eastwood said.

Once he made it to Thailand, Eastwood planned to see as much as possible — and play some basketball, of course.

Jacqueline Shaner is a junior at Glacier Peak High School.

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