Lucerne, Switzerland, May 12, 2018 – It is not unusual to see a guy with an athletic built and over two metres tall at the premises of an FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event. But when you recognize that guy as a top-level professional player from the NBA, it makes you think what these two sports, basketball and beach volleyball, have in common, other than the size of the athletes.
Maybe Chase Budinger, who recently ended his career as a professional basketballer and is now in Lucerne playing at his second event on the Beach Volleyball World Tour, can provide some of the answers…
“I grew up playing both basketball and volleyball, indoor as well as beach,” Budinger starts his story. “Both sports were big in my family. I decided to focus on just basketball in college, but during that whole time I knew that when I was done with basketball I wanted to come back and play beach volleyball.”
Chase grew up in Encinitas, a little beach town near San Diego, California, and played on Moonlight Beach. “A lot of great beach volleyball players have come from around that area,” he says. His sister Brittanie, who is the oldest of his siblings, played college indoor volleyball and then went professional in Europe for three seasons. The next oldest, his brother Duncan, followed a similar path and played overseas for about eight years. He used to play some beach volleyball too.
Chase Budinger himself was a standout basketball player in high school and with the University of Arizona Wildcats before joining the NBA. His professional years in basketball took him through the Houston Rockets, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Indiana Pacers and the Phoenix Suns. Then he spent a year in Europe playing for Spain’s Baskonia, before opting to change sports.
“In basketball, I have always given a lot of credit to volleyball for my jumping ability,” admits Chase. “I think both beach and indoor volleyball were huge for me early on to really develop my jumping. Without my athleticism, I could not play in the NBA for seven years and be in that game.”
“This past year I decided that I really did not want to play basketball anymore. I could not come back to the NBA and I didn’t want to play overseas,” Chase explains. “So in January Sean Rosenthal came calling and asked me if I wanted to get together and play. We sat down and we talked about it for a few hours. At that time I wasn’t 100 per cent sure I wanted to stop basketball and he wasn’t pressuring me to decide right away. He said, why don’t we go back to the beach and practice a little bit in the meantime to see if the chemistry is there… Once we started doing that, about three weeks into it, I said, you know what, this is fun; let’s do this. And we’ve been practicing and playing ever since… My brother Duncan also helped me a lot, talking about my transition. He says it is going to be a tough route, but he knows that I will be up for the challenge.”
Rosenthal and Budinger’s first World Tour event together was in Huntington Beach in early May. They conceded two defeats, losing in straight sets to eventual tournament winners Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen from the Netherlands and to Brazilians Ricardo Alex Costa Santos and Oscar Brandao.
“Our first match at Huntington Beach was a bye, because the other team had an injury. Then we had two really tough opponents. I had a lot of nerves and excitement and I did not play well,” Budinger explains. “It is really funny, because I remember my first NBA game and I was awful during that game too. I was so excited and the time finally came… Sometimes your nerves just take over and get the better of you. That’s what kind of happened at my first tournament. Being at home, with a bunch of family and friends, the hype and everything were very overwhelming, so we did not do so well.”
And here they are, at their second event, the three-star stop in Lucerne, Switzerland.
“Coming here, to Lucerne, and getting away from everybody, it’s just me and Sean, so we can focus on us. I think I have calmed down and we’ve been playing a lot better this tournament,” Chase says.
They have indeed. Starting off with two wins in the qualifications and beating the top seeds in their first main draw match, eventually Rosenthal and Budinger finished ninth.
“It’s a lot of fun. The tournaments are great. I love travelling,” recapitulates Chase. “But for me personally, it is a lot of learning, it is about getting as many games as I can, because you can’t get much better without playing. You need that experience of playing different styles, different people, of learning tendencies and so on. This whole summer is going to be a lot of learning on the fly for me. I have a great partner, who has been around forever. He is helping me along the way of figuring everything out.”
“They are just different sports, but in both sports you play at the highest level, against the best in the world,” says Chase when asked to draw a parallel between basketball and beach volleyball. “I saw it in Huntington and I am seeing it here – everyone’s great! And you have to bring your A game in every single match. This is how the World Tour works. If you want to contend and win tournaments, you have to be ready for every single game. The saying in the NBA is ‘no nights off’, because if you take a night off, the other team will just crush you. It is the exact same in beach volleyball. You can’t give up points, you can’t take any lows during games, because the other team is going to capitalize.”
Budinger blocking against top-seeded Marco Krattiger of Switzerland
“I want to play as long as I can,” concludes Chase Budinger, who is about to turn 30 later this month. “I think I am coming in at a good age, when my body is still healthy and I can jump and be a power player. My ultimate idea is to win tournaments and hopefully one day I will be able to play in the Olympics. I am always a dreamer and a goal-setter. As far as my goals, I always reach for the skies. But now I am more focused on the present – trying to get better from one tournament to the next. So hopefully in a year or two I will be playing my best volleyball.”