Rosie with a rookie?
Indeed, but not just any rookie.
The high-flying Sean Rosenthal will play beach volleyball in 2018 with another high flyer, Chase Budinger. Budinger, the 6-foot-7 29-year-old who has played in just one pro beach event — and that was in 2011 — played eight years in the NBA.
The 6-foot-3 Rosenthal is nicknamed Superman for how high he can jump. Budinger, whose indoor vertical leap was last measured at 40 inches, was a small forward whose NBA career included three years at Houston, three years at Minnesota, one year at Indiana, and time at Phoenix and Brooklyn. He finished his basketball career playing for Baskonia in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.
“It’s always been a plan of mine to play volleyball when I was done with basketball,” Budinger said last week during a break between volleyball and speed training at Hermosa Beach. “I’ve made it known with people around here. My mindset was once I was done with basketball, I wanted to fully commit to volleyball.”
Although Budinger is new to the world of pro beach volleyball, he was a highly lauded indoors player at La Costa Canyon high school in Carlsbad, Calif., where he was named the 2006 Volleyball magazine player-of-the-year award. His Seaside Volleyball club team won the 2006 national championship in 18s.
He narrowed his college choices to Arizona, UCLA, and USC. Had he chosen UCLA or USC, Budinger likely would have played both basketball and volleyball, but he ultimately chose Arizona. He was drafted in the second round in 2009 by Detroit but traded to Houston, which began his pro-basketball odyssey that included a second-place finish in the 2012 NBA slam-dunk contest.
After last season, he figured it was time to go from the hardwood to the sand, although he had only played one event previously, the Hermosa Beach Corona Wide Open in 2011, finishing 33rd with Dane Jensen.
“This winter basketball offers were slim, they weren’t good offers, they weren’t in places I wanted to go play, so as weeks and months went on, this opportunity came up to play with Rosie,” Budinger said. “It took me a couple of weeks to really sit down and think about it, and we actually practiced a couple of times to see how I liked it, playing out there on the sand, and ultimately I made the decision to jump to beach volleyball with him.”
Rosenthal had a strong season in 2017 with Trevor Crabb, who is now partnering with NVL alum Skylar DelSol.
“I told Trevor I didn’t want to play full-time internationally,” Rosenthal said. “He’s going to Kish Island (in the Persian Gulf) in a couple of weeks, and Doha (Qatar) right after (the FIVB event in Fort Lauderdale) Florida, and I just didn’t want to do all of those.”
Rosenthal and Budinger haven’t finalized their competition schedule for 2018. Rosie will stay on the right side after playing that side with Crabb and Phil Dalhausser. They’re eyeing the FIVB four-star event in Xiamen April 18-22, hoping for a wild-card, since Budinger has Chinese fans from his time with the Houston Rockets that coincided with Chinese superstar Yao Ming. Their next definite tournament is FIVB Huntington Beach May 2-6.
Rosenthal had talked to Budinger about his volleyball future in the past.
“I knew he wanted to play volleyball, I know he’s one guy that a lot of guys don’t know about, or haven’t seen,” Rosenthal said.
“We talked, had some practices, and when he said ‘I’m in, I’m done, I’m retired from basketball, I’m ready to go full-time,’ it was a really easy decision, because it was a low-risk, high-reward type of situation.
“Looking at the options I had out there, a few of them were guys I had played with in the past. I felt like I wanted to try something new and I definitely wanted a blocker. If you want to compete on the world tour you need a big blocker out there. That tour is bigger, stronger, younger, so I need someone to put a big monster block up. A lot of our bigger blockers are taken, so I went out and found one.”
Budinger’s older brother Duncan, who is 33, and sister Brittanie, 35, both played volleyball professionally overseas. Duncan has competed on the pro beach tour since 2005, with a career-high seventh-place finish in San Francisco last season with Kevin McColloch.
“Chase has been a professional athlete for a long time and he understands the focus, time and effort it takes to be successful at a sport,” Duncan Budinger said. “He will take everything that he has learned as a professional basketball player and translate that over to beach volleyball.
“Physically he is gifted and mentally he has been playing on the ‘big stage’ for a long time. Health permitting, there is nothing to stop him from becoming successful at this sport.“
Their sister, Brittanie, recently had her jersey retired at the University of San Francisco, the first volleyball player to receive that honor, after scoring 1,518 career kills and leading the Dons to their first NCAA tournament berth.
“Our family is very competitive,” Duncan Budinger said. “Board games were banned at our house for a long time. We kinda turn everything into a game, and no one likes to lose. You know how people at dinner parties always leave the last piece of food on a serving tray to be nice? Well, Chase has no problem grabbing and eating the last piece. He hates losing at anything, and that drive is what pushes him to become better at everything.”
Chase Budinger has lived in Hermosa Beach for four years and rides his bicycle to practice.
“I love the beach atmosphere here,” Budinger said, “Having the beach so close, you can get beach volleyball games in any time you want and I have a lot of friends up here, so I love it.”
Budinger and Rosenthal have only trained together for about two months.
“There’s a lot of learning, a lot of grinding, getting my beach legs,” Budinger said. “It’s been fun. It’s going well, but it’s rough being out there for 90 minutes or two hours, you start feeling it in your quads, calves, and hamstrings. It’s a learning curve, you just have to get out there every day and be out there and get used to it, and the sand legs will come.”
Rosenthal likes Budinger’s potential.
“I see myself in a leadership role in that I know the teams,” Rosenthal said, “I know what we want to do against certain guys, but he has played the sport at the highest of levels in the NBA. His communications skills, his desire to learn, his physical ability, all of that is top level.
“We’re going to get better, we’re going to get better fast. He’s really learning quickly out there. He wants it. He didn’t retire from basketball to come out here and play for fun. He wants to win and he wants to go to the Olympics. Whether he makes 2020 with me, or whoever else, I don’t know, but he’s young, and he wants it, so maybe 2020 or 2024, I think he has a great chance of getting there.”
“I’ve always wanted to come back, compete at beach volleyball and strive for the Olympics. I think my basketball career ended a little early, which is good and bad. It’s bad because I thought I could play 10-12 years, but with injuries (Budinger tore his left meniscus in November of 2012) and bad luck that didn’t happen, but good also because I’m younger and I’m able to get out on the beach sooner, which will help me in the long run for beach volleyball.”
He knows he has a lot to learn. For example, last week in practice he said he working “on a little bit of everything.”
“I have to get a lot of reps in, I’m new at this sport. The only way to get better is being on the sand and getting the reps in, and getting used to the sand, the wind, the sun, playing with Rosie, getting used to everything.”
It will likely be that way all season.
“I’ve always been a competitor. My goal is always to win. I love to compete, I love to win, I hate losing. I’m going to go into any tournament thinking that I could win. That’s how I’m going to approach it,” Budinger said.
“I know that there are going to be a lot of ups and downs, through tournaments and practices, but as long as I work hard and try to get better each and every day, I think I’m on the right path.”