Wanaah Bail recalls the first time he picked up a basketball. He was in eighth grade and, he said, "I felt at home."
Now a redshirt freshman at UCLA, he looks very much as though he belongs on the court: 6 feet 9 with a massive wingspan and huge hands.
It's where he'd like to be too, but he has been forced to be patient.
Bail was a dominant power forward at Rosenberg (Texas) Lamar Consolidated High two years ago. His original college choice was Texas Tech, but he left the Red Raiders' basketball program after three weeks, a casualty of Coach Billy Gillispie's implosion.
He spent his first year out of high school in limbo.
Choosing to bounce back at UCLA was easy. It took one visit.
Playing for UCLA hasn't been easy at all.
Bail underwent knee surgery in June and was not cleared to practice until November, weeks after his new teammates. He has been playing catch-up ever since.
"Right now, I'm on a winning team," Bail said. "It's an honor to play with these guys. All I can do is bust my butt in practice."
The Bruins slipped back into the Associated Press media poll, at No. 25, this week. They have an eight-man rotation, with the three effective bench players — Bryce Alford, Zach LaVine and Tony Parker — averaging a combined 28.5 points per game.
There is no room for Bail at the moment. Even playing time to become reacquainted with the game has been rare. Bail has appeared in seven of UCLA's 16 games and played 46 minutes.
"I can't worry about it right now," Coach Steve Alford said. "He just has to continue to stay sharp."
Noah Allen, a 6-6 freshman, is in a similar situation after returning from an injury two weeks ago. Allen was challenging for a rotation spot when he suffered three fractured bones in his face during UCLA's second game.
"They're doing a great job in practice," Alford said. "It's not a glamorous role by any means."
But the Bruins should know how quickly injuries change the landscape. They play No. 21 Colorado in Boulder on Thursday, facing a Buffaloes team that recently lost leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie and key reserve Tre'Shaun Fletcher to knee injuries.
"Wanaah and Noah have to be physically and mentally ready to go when called upon," Alford said.
There seems little doubt that the Bruins could use Bail. UCLA's rebounding remains a work in progress. Bail, forward Travis Wear said, "bangs on the boards."
And there is more to his game than muscle. In 2011, he played on the same high school all-star team with current Bruins teammates Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams and former UCLA player Shabazz Muhammad. Bail was ranked 28th among power forwards as a high school senior, according to Rivals.com, after averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds.
"There have been a couple dunks in practice," Wear said, shaking his head. "He's the best athlete on the team. Him or Zach LaVine."
Bail has been waiting to show that for a year.
After leaving Texas Tech, he trained with former NBA star John Lucas.
"It was up early and go to bed late," Bail said of the experience.
After deciding on UCLA, he successfully appealed to the NCAA for immediate eligibility. The paperwork allowed him to play. The knee didn't.
Bail's first game in nearly two years was against Nevada on Nov. 28.
"It was like walking for the first time," he said.
He finished with three points, three rebounds and two assists in nine minutes.
"When you miss that much time, it takes awhile to get back," said Wear, who sat out a year after transferring from North Carolina. "His timing is getting much better."