Growing up, James Rae remembers sitting in the Duckworth Centre watching Winnipeg Wesmen players of the past.
Soon, he'll be the one on centre stage.
Rae, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard out of Oak Park High School, has announced his commitment to the UWinnipeg men's basketball program as the first member of head coach Mike Raimbault's 2021 recruiting class.
He will enroll in the Faculty of Kinesiology and have five years of eligibility.
Rae called it a "dream come true" to be able to say he'll soon play for Winnipeg, a goal he has had in his heart since his earliest days of playing youth basketball.
Born in Calgary, but a Winnipegger since his family moved to town when he was in kindergarten, Rae said he's had a love for the game ever since.
"I remember going to watch these games sitting in the stands just watching them," Rae said. "And being able to play on the court while other people watch me eventually will be a dream come true.
"I used to play rec basketball through community (clubs), but once I started taking things a little more seriously and joined a club team, I kind of fell in love with the game more and wanted to continue it past high school."
Rae has played varsity at Oak Park for head coach Jon Lundgren since he was in Grade 9.
In his new head coach, Rae sees a bit of his soon-to-be-former head coach.
"That was one of the things that sold me on U of W: I could see myself having a strong relationship with the coach," Rae said. "He reminded me of Lundgren a bit. I could connect with him easily and that's something I really respect in a coach.
"I definitely had that feeling after the first conversation with Mike … that this could be a very great thing."
A former member of the Manitoba provincial team, Rae most recently played club for Triumph. In 2019-20, as a Grade 11, he was ranked the No. 6 player in the province in the Winnipeg Sun's annual coaches poll.
Raimbault and Lundgren both lauded Rae as a high-character player in addition to his physical skills.
"We are excited to add James to the program for next season," Raimbault said. "He has a great combination of size, strength and skill for his position along with a maturity and strength of character that will make him a valuable member of our group in the years ahead."
Added Lundgren: "James was able to use his athleticism to get to the rim at will in high school. He's a very good shooter and a willing passer. The Wesmen are getting a high-character young man. He's easy to coach and a supportive teammate. I'm happy that he will get to continue his basketball career at the university level."
At school, he joined the student council with hopes of "giving a voice to" Oak Park students in navigating this unprecedented year.
With code-red restrictions across the province for weeks, Rae has tried to focus on working out at home and doing his best to be physically ready when a return to play kicks in.
"I know I have a great situation here that I've put myself in. Some people would be more nervous, I'm excited. It's a great feeling."