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8/07/2008 10:21:00 AM
Q&A with ... Arizona's Chase Budinger
After a year with a different coach at the helm, Arizona's Lute Olson had to recruit Chase Budinger back to Arizona.
The Hoop Q&A series, now in its third season of existence on SI.com, makes its '08-09 debut this week with an interview of Arizona's Chase Budinger. After averaging 17.1 points and 5.4 rebounds as a sophomore in '07-08, he declared for the NBA Draft -- but later opted to return to the Wildcats. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:
Luke Winn: You pulled out of the draft on June 16, on the last possible day. What have you been doing this summer since then?
Chase Budinger: After I decided to come back to school, I took some time off. I was at home [in Encinitas, Calif.] for about two weeks, just relaxing. I'd go to the beach, hang out with friends, lay by the pool -- I wasn't doing anything competitive, just being lazy and eating a lot. Then I headed back to Arizona to take summer school and train there. There's only been a few players around, but we've been playing pickup and lifting every day.
LW: Probably the biggest news out of Arizona this summer was that Brandon Jennings, your All-America point guard recruit, opted to play professionally in Europe for a year rather than join the 'Cats. What was your reaction when that happened?
CB: I just felt that it was unfortunate that he wasn't able to come here. I was looking forward to playing with him again. I was able to play with him for two years in club [AAU] in high school, so I was very familiar with his game, and I felt we had a good connection.
LW: How much -- if at all -- did you talk to Jennings when he was making up his mind?
CB: During that whole process, I let him make his own decision. I figured he didn't want someone like me to be in his ear convincing him to come to Arizona. So I really didn't talk with him.
LW: What was your reaction, then, when Jennings actually chose Europe? Shock? Or did you expect it?
CB: It was kind of stunning, but knowing Brandon Jennings, he's the type of guy who always wants to be the first one to do something. This was a chance for him to be the first player to skip college and go to Europe for a year, then go to the pros afterwards.
LW: Last season [with Kevin O'Neill coaching during Lute Olson's leave of absence], Arizona played some pretty slow basketball by its own standards. You were down four whole possessions per game (65) from the '06-07 average (69). What was your feeling about that stylistic change?
CB: I didn't like it. I came to Arizona to get up and down the court, play up-tempo, score a lot of points. That's what I'm used to, and that's what I was looking for when I came to Arizona. My second year, I came back and a lot of changes happened. Some of them were kind of frustrating, but you had to learn to adjust.
LW: Do you remember a specific point from last season where you just kind of looked at what was going on on the floor, and said to yourself, this isn't Arizona's style?
CB: I mean, there were times during games were there were five minutes left, and I looked up at the scoreboard and we were in the 50s. I would see that and feel like, 'Wow. This is not typical Arizona basketball.'"
LW: So I take it coach Olson is making it a focal point to get back to the ways of old when he returns this year ...
CB: That's something he emphasized -- getting back to his coaching style, running for the whole game, running motion offense instead of having set plays every time down, causing chaos on the defensive end. I'm looking forward to getting back to that.
LW: The Olympics are starting this week in Beijing. As a former national prep volleyball player of the year [ex-'Zona assistant Josh Pastner called Budinger the 'LeBron James' of volleyball] who opted not to play the sport in college, are you going to be following the U.S. team?
CB: There's a lot of sports I'm going to watch in the Olympics, but I'll keep a close eye on volleyball, because there are two guys on the team that I've played against -- a middle blocker named David Lee, and an outside hitter named Sean Rooney. Those are the only two real young guys -- the rest are too old for me to have played against.
LW: In the SI story about you from back in '06, Lute said that he'd consider allowing you to play volleyball in the 2008 Summer Games. That was obviously before you chose to stop playing it competitively, but had you not, could you have realistically been on the Olympic team?
CB: I believe so, that there would have been an opportunity to play on that team if I had really worked hard at it, and stuck with volleyball for a couple more years.
LW: When's the last time you actually played volleyball -- or have you given it up altogether?
CB: I actually played last weekend, just on the beach in LA, in a Six Man beach volleyball tournament on Manhattan Beach. It was just for fun, playing with some buddies. We finished fifth. I was actually very impressed with myself, that I was able to still hit the ball the way I did.
LW: Did anyone recognize you -- as the basketball player -- while you were in that tournament?
CB: A lot of people did. They came up to me, knew who I was, and talked to me a little bit, or asked for autographs, things like that.
LW: Last November, a picture of you went up on Deadspin -- presumably from a Halloween party -- where you were wearing a Celtics jersey, with two costumed girls in front of you.
CB: Yeah, it was a Halloween party. We went out, a bunch of us, and I was just wearing a Larry Bird jersey. I wasn't really going to dress up.
LW: It wasn't incriminating or anything, but did anything bad happen to you because of it? Did coaches react?
CB: No, not really. The coaches saw it. They just laughed about it. There's nothing negative about it -- there was no damage at all. It would have been different if I had a handle of vodka in my hand, though. That would have been bad.
LW: Your freshman year, in a game at Washington, fans held up your parents' home phone number on a sign, trying to rattle you. Was that the harshest thing any fans have done in your career, still? Or has anyone topped it?
CB: That's still the harshest thing. My parents said that the whole night, they were getting calls. They had to unplug the phone, and the whole week had to keep turning it off. They say they still get random calls on weekends, and when that game comes around, it starts up again. I think they laughed about it, though. They were just glad it wasn't my cell phone.
LW: You're regarded as one of the college game's best raw athletes. When you've watched college hoops over the past few years, which players outside of Arizona have impressed you with their athleticism?
CB: I've been impressed with Joe Alexander, from West Virginia. He was a freak athlete. Terrence Williams, from Louisville, just watching him and playing against him, he had some pretty big highlights. And Greg Oden, for how big he is, the fact that he's that athletic is amazing. The last guy would be Gerald Henderson from Duke -- he can really get up. Very athletic.
LW: When you were still up in the air over your NBA decision, I heard Lute visited your family's house in San Diego [Encinitas, actually]. Were you there -- and what was said?
CB: I wasn't there. But he went down [to Encinitas] a couple of times, to kind of recruit me all over again, and recruit my parents again. He told them that this year was going to be different. They were good talks; my parents have put their trust in coach O this year again. And I'm putting my trust in him that he's going to be able to coach all year.
LW: So how did he recruit you, then?
CB: He would leave me messages, or send texts telling me that next year will be different, it would be more like my freshman year, and we'll be having fun while we get back to running up and down the court.
LW: There was one kind of harsh quote from coach Olson, regarding your draft stock, that stood out at me from earlier in the summer. He said that it would be 'ridiculous' for you to go out this year, in the 20-21 [pick] range, rather than being in the top six next year. How did you react when you heard that?
CB: At the time, I felt like it was a pretty harsh comment that he made. It was just his own opinion at the time. Maybe he was just saying that so I would look at it and it would persuade me to come back, but at the time, though, it was harsh. know where he was coming from, though, because he knows that I'm a much better player than what the draft boards were saying. And his whole thing this year, is the win the Pac-10, go far in the NCAA tournament and also get me to be a top-10 pick.