My Pre-Season Chat With Chase Budinger, The Pac-10 Freshman Of The Year
Several months ago, I was sipping ice water in the press box, watching the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds play the Arizona Wildcats as part of a pre-season practice tournament in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada.
Lute Olson, Arizona’s legendary coach, was directing traffic from the sideline. The Wildcats were loaded with wily veterans, all of whom under normal circumstances would be worth watching closely.
Reggie Theus, a former NBA star and the current coach of the rapidly improving New Mexico State Aggies, was relaxing in a corner of the arena. Theus’ Aggies were also taking part in the tournament.
Nobody cared about Olson, the Wildcats’ established stars or even a mellowed out Theus. The crowd had gathered to watch one player: Chase Budinger, Arizona’s first year swingman.
After all, this incoming class had hype. There was Greg Oden, the stud centre for Ohio State. There was Kevin Durant, the athletic swingman for Texas. And there was also Budinger, Arizona’s prize recruit and a supposed lock for the NBA lottery.
The former California prep star began the game on the bench. After a few minutes, Coach Olson motioned for Budinger to check in.
He nailed his first three shots in spectacular fashion. The stadium was buzzing. Fans and local media were stunned at what they had just seen.
Arizona’s traveling media weren’t surprised. They were chuckling at the reaction Budinger’s play was getting. One of the Wildcats’ beat writers then turned to me and dropped a shocking statement.
“You know what? Chase’s been sick all day,” the reporter said. “He’s got an upset stomach and a bad headache. I don’t know how he’s even playing, let alone doing that.”
Following the game, a ‘sic’-playing and sick-looking Chase Budinger answered a few quick questions.
Oly Sandor: How you feeling?
Chase Budinger: Pretty bad. I’ve got a virus. I’ve been very sick for the last couple of days. This was the first time I’ve played basketball in four days. So it’s tough for me. I’m under the weather. I’m just trying to go out there and do as much as I can.
OS: What position will you end up playing this year?
CB: I think the wing, 2-3. That’s what they (the Arizona coaching staff) have been saying.
OS: What made you pick Arizona?
CB: The style of offense. Coach Olson is a great coach. I don’t think they’ve had a losing record, ever. I wanted to play with the best players. I wanted to play with and against the best teams. Arizona was just a great match for me.
OS: Was your decision Arizona or the NBA?
CB: No. I also wanted to go to college. It was between UCLA, USC, and Arizona. Those were my three choices.
OS: Good luck this year.