Last month, for the first time in more than two years, Yemi Makanjuola got to go home. Home is Lagos, Nigeria, and it's long way off, literally and figuratively.
For two terrific weeks, it was family, mom's Nigerian cooking and hanging with old friends.
Then it was time to get on the airplane and return to America.
So there was Makanjuola on Monday night in a sweaty Bearden High School gym, opening night of the Pilot Rocky Top League.
I wondered if he wouldn't still rather be back in Lagos. His answer surprised me.
"I love playing basketball,'' Makanjuola said. "I always want to be where I can play basketball at the biggest level.''
In other words, Knoxville is home, too.
Nobody had heard of him when new coach Cuonzo Martin
signed the 6-foot-9 project last spring out of a little church school in North Carolina.
Yemi What? Maka Who?
He didn't set the world on fire last season, averaging 2.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. But anyone who appreciates basketball could see the potential in an athletic big man who works hard.
One December night Makanjuola thrilled the crowd by scoring 18 consecutive points against The Citadel. I can't prove it but I'll bet Allan Houston or Bernard King never scored 18 consecutive points.
He had some good moments here and there against better teams, too.
"It's exactly what Coach Martin preaches,'' said Mark Pancratz, UT's coordinator of video scouting. "The reason (Yemi) was successful at the end of the year was that he stayed in the gym.
"He was there every morning getting extra work and staying after practice. You saw that pay off for him.''
With a year of college basketball and another year in America — he arrived in January 2010 — under his belt, Makanjuola is poised to take another step. Makanjuola is all about taking steps.
When he came on his recruiting visit, Pancratz had never seen Makanjuola play. So he asked what his game was like.
"I'll never forget,'' Pancratz said, "he said, 'All I want to do is rebound and defend and I won't give up layups.' ''
This is enlightening about Makanjuola's character. His Nigerian basketball hero is not Hakeem Olajuwon or Emeka Okafor. It's a guy named Olumide Oyedeji, who played a couple of years in the NBA.
"He's a devout man,'' said Makanjuola. "The kind of man I want to be in the future.''
As for his basketball future over the next three years, it's convenient to think of another Nigerian, Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli.
Makanjuola had never heard of Ezeli back home, but paid his countryman this tribute:
"He's not the best guy I played against this year but he's the toughest, the strongest.''
Ezeli was raw when he showed up at Vandy. He averaged 3.8 points each of his first two years, then jumped to 13.0 as a junior and 10.1 as a senior. Now he's about to be drafted into the NBA.
Is it fair for UT fans to project Makanjuola on the same track? If work ethic counts, yes.
"He's a real loving, caring, funny person,'' said UT teammate Brandon Lopez, "but on the court he's real physical and he's one of the most competitive persons I've been around.''
That's the Lagos in him, Makanjuola says. His hometown is a sprawling metro area of 15 million.
"It makes everything hard on you,'' he said. "You have to compete for everything you get. That's my mentality, to always compete.
"Where I am from made me what I am.''
Now it's Tennessee's turn to complete the job. It'll be interesting to see what the finished project looks like.
"The sky,'' Makanjuola said, "is my limit.''