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The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA program’s future hinges on Budinger’s decision

    UA forward Chase Budinger releases the ball in the Wildcats 84-74 loss to Oregon on Jan. 5 in McKale Center. Budinger, who put his name into the NBA Draft this week, will leave the Wildcats with a thin roster if he decides to go pro.
    UA forward Chase Budinger releases the ball in the Wildcat’s 84-74 loss to Oregon on Jan. 5 in McKale Center. Budinger, who put his name into the NBA Draft this week, will leave the Wildcats with a thin roster if he decides to go pro.

    Schwartz on Sports

    For many college sophomores, their biggest daily decision comes down to Chipotle or No Anchovies.

    UA sophomore forward Chase Budinger’s decision on whether to stay in the NBA Draft or return to school may only decide the direction of the Arizona program in the near future and his career in the long run.

    No pressure, Chase.

    Budinger, who did not hire an agent to leave his options open, will have a busy couple of months deciding whether he would be better off leading Arizona next season or beginning his NBA career early.

    “”It’s always been my goal to play in the NBA,”” Budinger said in a press release, “”and I feel like I need to take the next step to be able to do that. This is a good time for me to get some feedback on my game.””

    If the feedback is anything like what Aran Smith of NBADraft.net had to say, expect Budinger back in an Arizona uniform.

    Smith currently has Budinger going No. 16 overall and expects him to go somewhere in that neighborhood. That should be troubling news for Arizona fans as Budinger’s trainer Trent Suzuki said his client would bolt if he’s a guaranteed lottery pick, which encompasses the first 14 selections.

    Smith would see a Budinger pick, however, as one based on his upside more so than what he brings to the table right now.

    If he returns to school, Smith sees Budinger as a top-10 pick next year with the possibility of jumping into the top-five range. Right now Smith said Budinger has “”holes to his game”” in terms of maturity and defense and thus “”would really benefit by going back next year.””

    Smith said the transition to the NBA would be much easier for Budinger if he becomes a “”a full-on superstar”” in college next season rather than a player seen as a No. 2 performer to UA guard Jerryd Bayless this year.

    “”I think his chances of ultimately becoming an All-Star level player would really be enhanced by going back,”” Smith said. “”By going (to the league) early he runs the risk of losing his confidence and never realizing his potential.

    “”I think he’s got ability to become a star in the NBA, but right now he’s struggling to defend on the college level. That’s the college level, so he obviously isn’t ready for the next level.””

    Smith brought up the case of Marco Belinelli, a guard Golden State picked No. 18 overall in last year’s draft and raved about in the summer leagues. But Belinelli, an offensive player seen as a perfect fit for the Warriors, has only averaged 2.4 points in 6.9 minutes per game this year because Golden State head coach “”Don Nelson doesn’t trust him defensively,”” Smith said.

    Arizona’s active streak of 24 straight NCAA Tournaments would be in serious jeopardy if Budinger leaves. A week ago, UA fans were frothing at the mouth over the possibility of guards Brandon Jennings and Bayless and forwards Budinger and Jordan Hill teaming up for what could have been one of the most talented teams in UA history.

    If Budinger leaves you’re looking at a lineup of Jennings, guard Nic Wise, forward Jamelle Horne, Hill and center Jeff Withey, with limitied talent and experience on the bench.

    That’s a team that would need a hell of a lot of improvement from Horne and contributions from freshmen other than Jennings just to challenge for a spot in the tournament.

    With Budinger, the tournament streak is most likely intact and you’ve got a more talented, deeper version of this year’s Wildcats, but without all the coaching drama (we can expect, at least) and with Jennings taking over the elite freshman guard role from Bayless.

    That crew playing UA head coach Lute Olson’s up-tempo style would be fun to watch and would have a decent shot at making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, especially if Budinger turns his game up a notch to the
    superstar level.

    If Budinger leaves, there’s no ready-made replacement like Jennings for Bayless and no star power to complement Jennings and Hill.

    “”Obviously, we hope that he’s going to return,”” Olson in a press release. “”I’m happy that he is going through the evaluation process. That way he will be able to come back if he decides that it’s the best thing for him.””

    If NBA general managers echo Smith’s thoughts on Budinger, he will be back.

    Budinger does not need the money, genuinely seems to enjoy college and Arizona basketball and has always been very close to Olson.

    But if the sirens of the NBA lure Budinger away with the temptations of an immediate lottery payoff, next year won’t be pretty for UA basketball or Budinger.

    Michael Schwartz is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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