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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Budinger takes another shot

    Chase Budinger wore many different basketball jerseys over the summer while attempting to prove himself at the professional level.

    After completing his nationwide summer circuit bouncing between NBA cities and camps, only one jersey remains.

    It reads “”Arizona”” across the front.

    “”He’s a Wildcat,”” UA guard Garland Judkins said. “”He’s a competitor and he wants to win right now, regardless of what happens with his NBA career. He’s for Arizona right now.””

    The 6-foot-7-inch forward waited until the last hour before pulling his name from the 2008 NBA Draft. As the deadline approached, so did the fear that Budinger’s decision would not favor Tucson.

    But after five weeks of speculation, official confirmation of his return for junior year on June 16 brought an even broader assumption: This would be Budinger’s team.

    “”It means a lot. We definitely have a great chance at going further in the tournament than just one and done,”” UA forward Alex Jacobson said.

    Throughout the preseason, Lute Olson and UA interim head coach Russ Pennell confirmed the obvious – both spoke highly of his role as a leader and go-to guy on this year’s squad.

    Budinger will be expected to lead an identity of a team suddenly without its Hall of Fame head coach.

    “”Everyone recognizes what his abilities are,”” Olson said at media day. “”He just needs to constantly be the guy that’s expressing things. He’s a totally different guy on the court than he was, say, when he came in as a freshman.

    “”He’s still not a blabbermouth by any stretch of the imagination,”” Olson added.

    Now as an upperclassmen with a very inexperienced supporting cast of freshmen, Budinger will assume the duties of leading the team not only by example, but vocally, too.

    Budinger joins junior leaders Jordan Hill and Nic Wise in the starting lineup, but then a significant drop in experience appears on the Wildcats roster. Arizona’s roster consists of five unproven freshmen and two sophomores, some of which expect to contribute significantly after the departure of standout freshmen recruits Jeff Withey, Emmanuel Negedu and Brandon Jennings.

    Not since his days in high school has Budinger been the undivided focal point.

    “”It meant a lot because they are amazing players and we need their leadership,”” Judkins said. “”A lot of people think we’re young, but we’re actually very experienced in our skill positions.””

    His freshmen year, as a standout five-star recruit, Budinger proved himself to be a viable option for the Wildcats: He led the team with 50 3-point buckets and shot more than 55 percent from inside the arc, earning him Pacific 10 Conference Freshman of the Year honors.

    Despite averaging 15.6 points per game, Budinger still shared the spotlight with standout sophomore Marcus Williams and senior Ivan Radenovic.

    Then in a sophomore season slated for big improvements, Budinger averaged 17.1 points during Kevin O’Neill’s tenure that gave Jerryd Bayless – who averaged 19.9 points per game – a platform to carry the team.

    Now as the top scorer on the Wildcats’ depth chart, Pennell expects Budinger to take about 40 percent of the team’s shots on any given game.

    “”The thing with Chase that we have really tried to get him to understand: Chase Budinger is a valuable player even when he doesn’t score,”” Pennell said. “”Do we need him to score? Absolutely.

    “”But he’s a great facilitator with the basketball, a steady hand in handling it and his defense is much improved – it really is,”” Pennell said. “”And he’s rebounding the ball pretty decently.””

    But after spending the summer working out for NBA teams, eager to prove himself at that level, would Budinger be returning to Tucson with a newfound different gameplan of reaching the pros?

    “”That’s not a problem at all,”” Olson said. “”The one thing I made very clear to him was, ‘Okay if you’re back, are you back as an NBA guy using the year to get ready for the NBA?’

    “”And he said, ‘Absolutely not,'”” Olson said. “”Anybody that knows Chase knows you don’t have to wonder about that.””

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