Indiana Pacers swingman Chase Budinger has made a career for himself scoring the basketball, as that picture-perfect shooting form always has been something of a calling card for him. But what often gets overlooked is the fact that he’s one of the league’s most under-appreciated leapers, a skill he picked up as a student athlete dividing his time between basketball and volleyball.
In fact, he was so good at both coming out of high school that universities were willing to offer him full-ride scholarship opportunities to continue playing both sports.
“There were volleyball scholarships,” Budinger told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of the colleges recruiting me for volleyball also wanted me to play basketball, so there were schools like UCLA, USC that were pushing me to play both. They’d send both coaches to recruit me and would say things like, ‘Hey, if you come to UCLA you could play both sports,’ things like that, but I just decided I wanted to play only basketball.”
That decision ultimately proved to be a rather lucrative one, particularly since Budinger has seen the sort of success he hoped for in the sport he stuck with. His choice to hone in on the more lucrative profession led him to the University of Arizona, which at the time had the most respected hoops program of any school pushing for him. UCLA and USC could have given him perfectly respectable basketball and volleyball experiences, but ultimately Lute Olson convinced him to become a Wildcat.
“I had always played both sports, not just in high school but before high school, so I just wanted to dedicate myself just to basketball, which is why I chose to play at Arizona so I wouldn’t have to worry about that,” Budinger said, adding that even though he stopped playing at that point, the skills he learned playing volleyball always have transferred quite well to hoops.
“I actually credit a lot of my jumping ability to having played volleyball all those years. Peripheral vision transfers over as well. You really have to have that in volleyball, especially as a hitter, and you obviously need that in basketball too. Court awareness transfers over as well, you have make quick decisions, quick movements. Volleyball is all about jumping and then making a quick reaction. There really are a lot of similarities between the two sports.”
Even today, Budinger continues to play a lot of volleyball, particularly in the offseason when he uses it to keep himself in game shape. Where some players get recreational sports written out of their lives thanks to cautionary contract language, Budinger always has insisted that he be able to play his other favorite sport. So far, nobody has given him too much grief about it.
“I always add a For The Love of the Game clause in my contracts so I can keep playing,” Budinger said. “No team has ever argued it because I do a lot of cross training with volleyball during the offseason, and anyway it’s not too dangerous. I actually think it’s great for training, especially beach volleyball, which isn’t so impactful on your knees and ankles.”
Despite his ongoing love for volleyball, Budinger’s job now revolves entirely around basketball, and as someone who has spent almost his entire life playing for winning teams and being one of the best players on the floor, he’s glad to be back in a winning situation this year in Indiana. His short stint as a role player for a rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves team went a long way toward testing his patience.
“Last year was really tough,” he said. “We only won about 16 games or something like that, and every game felt like we’d be right there and then the other team would go on a big run and we wouldn’t be able to recover. That was so repetitive. It was like déjà vu to have that happen each and every night, and it was frustrating.”
That futility made it hard to remain motivated, especially once the team was out of contention for a spot in the postseason, which usually happened pretty early in the year.
“It was frustrating coming into practice even though you know you’re not making the playoffs, but the mindset was to look toward the future, to look forward to next year, to be a professional and go out to do your job,” he said. “Get better, better yourself.”
A lot of players talk about how hard it is to keep their heads in the game once a championship or even a playoff appearance is out of the picture in a given year, and while Budinger admits that the paycheck is good for some motivation, it isn’t all that keeps players going in the face of a lost season.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself it’s just about being professional, coming in and doing my job each and every day no matter what the record is. Also, it’s because I love playing this game,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to come down with an injury. Any hypothetical thing could happen to you where you can no longer play this game, so you try to enjoy every game and have fun. That’s how I approached those games.”
Now, of course, he’s playing for one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams in the Pacers, and while things haven’t exactly been perfect in Indy thus far, he’s glad to be seeing some wins again and a real shot at the postseason.
“I’m still getting adjusted to a new team,” he said. “There were a lot of new guys coming into this team this year, so it wasn’t just me. There was eight of us, I think, trying to get used to one another and the system, and that was quite an adjustment. We’re still progressing and getting to know each others’ game, but it’s a progress thing and I really think we’re getting better with time.”
At 19-14, Budinger already has won more games with the Pacers than he did in all of last season in Minnesota. He’s come a long way from the days of fighting off volleyball recruiters to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA, and it finally looks like his days of playing for mediocre teams is over.
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