Ogden • Finally, Kyle Bullinger has begun to hit his stride. For a while, it looked as though the Weber State senior's season was not going to meet expectations.
One of the big wheels during two Big Sky Conference basketball championships runs, Bullinger was naturally projected as a key cog in Weber State's quest for a third title in four seasons.
But even after life's curveballs began in the summer he was pulling rocks from his head a week after rolling a four-wheeler Bullinger was fit and ready to go for Weber State's opening game.
Then came an ugly, turn-your-head-away dislocation of his right elbow.
Subsequently, Bullinger, one of the Wildcats' undisputed leaders, spent the next two months watching injured from the bench, elbow tightly bound. His return to form has been slow even as WSU continues to roll, with its next contest at Montana State on Wednesday.
"These things happen," said Bullinger, a first team all-conference player in 2011. "But the goal never changes. The path is a little different."
The first few games back, Bullinger's timing was poor and his confidence shaken. The 6-foot-6 forward was hesitant about forcing contact in the paint, which is understandable considering the injury that forced him to the bench.
"I knew shots were going to fall eventually," he said. "I was more anxious worrying about when I would get my comfortability back and be able to play with aggression without having to worry about the elbow. And it's getting closer."
A player whose game is attack needed that first good, hard whack. And Bullinger worried because the Wildcats (20-4, 12-1) hadn't missed a beat.
"His whole concern ... was, 'I don't want to screw up the team by coming back,' because we were playing pretty well and we won a few," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. "I said, 'Sorry, Bull, you have no choice. You're coming back, and you ain't going to screw up the team. We need you.' "
On Dec. 3, Bullinger, who needs eight points to become the 24th Wildcat to score 1,000 career points, was knocked off balance while leaping for a rebound against San Jose State. He crashed hard to the floor, his right elbow taking the brunt.
Prior to the injury, Bullinger had started all 100 games of his career at Weber State.
"We need Bull," teammate Damian Lillard said. "He's just a great teammate."
Bullinger might consider himself fortunate to be playing at all after the four-wheeler accident. He suffered ugly but relatively minor scrapes, bruises and few stitches after skylarking about his native Wyoming countryside in August with a cousin and tumbling down a mountain.
One week after his hospital visit, Bullinger continued to pull pebbles from of his head.
"It was a nasty little spill," he said. "We were coming down a mountain, and we hit a spot that was granite. My cousin was hot-dogging it a little, and we started to slide. I knew this was not going to end well."
The vehicle flipped onto Bullinger's side. After pausing a moment or two to make sure nothing vital had been damaged, the two turned the four-wheeler onto its wheels and went to the hospital.
Bullinger, who hadn't missed a game since middle school, saw his luck ran out against San Jose State. Patience for the two-time all-academic all-conference performer became another lesson.
"It's exciting to be back and part of the team again," he said. "I kept telling myself I was going to come back and help the team. I wondered if I would ever get back again. I'm just grateful to be back."
• Bullinger needs eight more points to become the 24th player with 1,000 career points at Weber State. He already has more than 500 total rebounds, the 22nd player at WSU to accomplish that feat.
• A native of Mountain View, Wyo., Bullinger is married to former Weber State volleyball player Katie Mario and is majoring in secondary education.
• As a senior for Mountain View High, Bullinger was the state's leading scorer at 28.3 points per game.