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The Daily Wildcat

 

Budinger proving worth in NBA

Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat

PHOENIX – Some fans still believe Chase Budinger, a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, never lived up to expectations during three years on the Arizona men’s basketball team.

The NBA apparently agreed.

Budinger watched the 2009 NBA Draft as, pick by pick, NBA

Commissioner David Stern recited every name but his: Victor Claver, Omri Casspi and Christian Eyenga rolled off his tongue as Budinger slipped down the draft board. The Detroit Pistons finally took Budinger with the 44th pick, then traded him to the Houston Rockets on draft night.

“”He was given the label of being soft,”” former Arizona head coach Lute Olson, who recruited Budinger to Tucson, said. “”When that happens — if you get labeled by the NBA — you’re in trouble. You’re going to drop.””

Olson attended a Jan. 6 game between Budinger’s Rockets and fellow Wildcat Channing Frye’s Phoenix Suns. Budinger scored nine points and recorded eight rebounds in 23 minutes, being one of a lucky few second-round picks to find a role on an NBA team.

“”I think the first thing,”” Budinger said of finding his niche on the Rockets, “”is just getting the opportunity to play. I guess I showed the coach that, you know, he can trust me to put me out there and kind of not to screw up.””

And screwing up is something he has done little of. Rockets head coach Rick Adelman gives the rookie an average of 18 minutes per game and Budinger has yet to turn the ball over more than twice in a single game. He is averaging eight points and 2.9 rebounds per game.

Against the Suns that night, Adelman trusted Budinger on the court with 29 seconds left. Down 114-109, Budinger found himself wide open for a 3-pointer.

He missed the shot, but his teammates and coaches know his eight-point-per-game average is no fluke.

“”He’s a great talent,”” said Rocket veteran Shane Battier, a former Duke Blue Devil. “”He’s worked hard from the start and shown he has the athleticism.

“”He has a pretty good understanding of the game for a rookie,”” Battier added. “”He’s done a great job. He’s been a valuable member of our team.””

Budinger’s stigma as being soft is perhaps outweighed by his high basketball IQ. His hoops smarts are something the former Wildcat takes pride in, but he insists his instincts are nothing new.

“”Just the way I was brought up playing this game,”” Budinger said. “”That’s where I feel like my basketball IQ came from. That’s something I do try to improve on.

“”I do watch a lot of film,”” he added. “”Before every game I watch last night’s game just to look at the mistakes I did.””

Against the Suns, Budinger showed a natural grasp of the game, grabbing eight rebounds as if he knew where each Suns’ miss would bounce. He scored the majority of his points by curling off screens, a stereotypical play that Budinger acquired in his Arizona days, despite playing for three head coaches and thus, three completely different systems.

That turmoil, Budinger said, may have hurt his draft placement but helped him grow overall as a player.

“”Nobody knows how tough and difficult it was to go through that whole process of three different coaches,”” Budinger said. “”The only way you could really know is to experience it. It was a tough experience, but I think in the long run it helped me become the player I am now.””

So far, Budinger has adjusted well to the NBA game and its grueling schedule. He said the biggest difficulty is transitioning from playing just over 30 games in college to pushing through the 82 games in the NBA regular season.

And of course, he has to deal with his elder teammates’ hazing practices.

“”Every rookie gets hazed. I’ve been having it pretty easy,”” Budiner said. “”Mostly, all I really had to do was go get donuts, carry some luggage, pick up some food for them before the airplane. That’s about it. I’ve heard a lot worse. Keep my fingers crossed that none of that stuff comes up.””

If he survives in the cutthroat league, the former Wildcat will get his opportunity to do a little of his own hazing of future rookies.

But his survival is certain according to Budinger’s former head coach.

“”I was so happy to see, on draft night, when Detroit picked him,”” Olson said. “”I thought that’s great for him because he’ll fit in well with the Houston guys. He’s with a really good group now.””

As far as predictions for the future, Olson added, “”He’s going to be in the league for a long time.””

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