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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Budinger lives up to the hype

    Chase Budinger
    Chase Budinger

    It’s always a good thing for a UA freshman wing to be compared to former Wildcat Sean Elliott, who arguably made the biggest first-year impact of any freshman in Arizona history.

    That was the case for freshman forward Chase Budinger, who did not disappoint in becoming one of Arizona’s go-to scorers on his way to winning Pacific 10 Conference Freshman of the Year honors despite a loaded first-year class.

    “”It was very surprising,”” Budinger said. “”There were many, many great freshman in the Pac-10, and they all stepped up for their team. There’s a bunch of us that really deserved to get that Pac-10 honor, and I was just really surprised to get that.””

    Many similarities come up when comparing Budinger’s statistics to Elliot’s freshman numbers. Both players averaged 15.6 points per game, with Elliott doing it on 48.6 percent shooting and Budinger on 48.5. Budinger narrowly outrebounded Elliott 5.8 rebounds per game to 5.3.

    “”If he ends up as good as Sean, he’s going to have one heck of an NBA career,”” said new assistant Kevin O’Neill, who coached Elliott as a Wildcat and has stayed in touch with him. “”That guy had a great career and accomplished many things outside of playing basketball that all of us would be proud of doing, so if Chase ends up like Sean, we’ve got ourselves a hell of a player.””

    Budinger, Arizona’s second-leading scorer behind forward Marcus Williams, was also a second-team freshman All-America selection by both collegehoops.net and rivals.com, a recruiting Web site.

    That helped him win the conference’s top honors despite the stellar debuts of Washington center Spencer Hawes, Stanford forward Brook Lopez, California forward Ryan Anderson, Oregon guard Tajuan Porter and USC forward Taj Gibson.

    For that accomplishment, UA assistant coach Josh Pastner ranks Budinger in the company of Elliott in UA freshman annals.

    “”He’s got to be right there as one of the best (in UA history),”” Pastner said. “”That’s a heck of an honor to be Freshman of the Year considering what competition it was to get Freshman of the Year in the Pac-10. For him to win the award is a special honor.””

    Budinger was the fifth Wildcat to be named conference Freshman of the Year and one of 10 UA freshmen to score more than 400 points, scoring 484 for fifth on that list.

    Despite being the nation’s No. 4 recruit, according to rivals.com, the humble Budinger did not expect this much success this early.

    “”That was my kind of my goal coming in,”” Budinger said. “”I just wanted to contribute as much as I could coming into the program. I worked out hard in the summer last year to prepare, and I think I did more than what I expected coming in.””

    Budinger said his decision on whether to turn pro after his sophomore season depends on how next year goes. He added that he wants to make a deep NCAA Tournament run before his college days end and may return if Arizona does not do that, but next season could be it for the player nbadraft.com tabs going seventh overall in the 2008 draft.

    Now with O’Neill on board, Budinger has a mentor who can help him prepare for an eventual NBA career.

    Budinger said O’Neill has already told him he will help with some NBA moves that translate to the college game.

    “”It’s very exciting because he’s coached the college game and the NBA game, so he knows both sides,”” Budinger said. “”Especially for me. Not only am I trying to get ready for next year and win a national championship but I’m trying to prepare myself for the NBA, as well.””

    Runner Up: Brittney Morgan, gymnastics

    Brittney Morgan was only slated to perform on a couple of events, but she stepped up to replace injured teammates and ended up one of the Arizona gymnastics team’s key all-arounders. The Charlottesville, Va., native was named Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week after scoring a career-high 39.350 at NC State March 9. Her 9.975 on vault in the same competition was the team’s highest score on any event all season. Morgan was the first Arizona freshman to qualify for the NCAAs as an individual in UA head coach Bill Ryden’s 17 years at Arizona, and she finished 12th all-around out of 21 gymnasts in the first round of competition.

    -Nina Conrad

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