Oh, God. It was happening again.
Chase Budinger had felt this before. He’d felt these nerves, that extra surge — no, surge might not do it justice, the extra deluge — of adrenaline. He knew what happened the last time. And here it was, all over again.
His first point as a professional beach volleyball player, partnered with one of the all-time greats in Sean Rosenthal, matched up with the hottest team in the world in Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen, set on stadium court of the biggest domestic tournament of the year, was a swing into the net. Then another. Then another in which he got stuck in the sand, to the point that the guy who was once in an NBA Dunk Contest couldn’t get his feet off the ground.
“I don’t think that’s ever happened to me in practice,” Budinger said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “And in that game, it happened to me twice.”
This type of debut might scar some. Budinger? Not really. He’d been here before. On a bigger stage, with more viewers, higher stakes.
In his first game with the Houston Rockets, who had traded for Budinger after he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 44th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, he had two straight turnovers and an airball.
“I get taken out right away, and I’m like ‘Wow, that was embarrassing, there’s no way he’s going to put me back in,’” Budinger recalled. “And he actually does put me back in in the second half and I finally got a fastbreak layup and I remember after I got that layup my nerves just kind of flushed.”
Then he hit a jump shot, put down a dunk, finished with six points in 15 minutes. A quick recovery after an inauspicious start.
So yes, Budinger had been there before when he struggled in that opening match against Brouwer and Meeuwsen. He knew, just as Rosenthal did, that it would take time, that his body would soon learn to not freak out prior to a match, that the adrenaline drip would be a bit less intense.
That he’d be just fine.
And he would be.
A week later, he and Rosenthal would travel to Lucerne, Switzerland, seeded No. 28 in the qualifier. They mopped up two qualifying matches in straight sets, and promptly upset the No. 1 team in the tournament, Switzerland’s Nico Beeler and Marco Krattiger, in consecutive sets as well.
“I never had that moment where the nerves went away,” Budinger said. “It just went away over time. Winning those games definitely helped with the confidence.”
With each tournament, the wins mounted, and the confidence seemed to subsequently bloom. In New York, for the second AVP of the season, Budinger helped Rosenthal knock out his old partner, Trevor Crabb, and John Mayer. Then he toppled Olympian Casey Patterson and Stafford Slick before succumbing to John Hyden and Theo Brunner, finishing fifth.
In just two tournaments, Budinger had eclipsed the best finish of his older brother, Duncan, who has been playing in AVPs since 2005.
Ah, yes, Chase’s older brother plays professionally, too. As does his sister, Brittanie, the only volleyball player in University of San Francisco history to have her number retired. Funny story about that, too.
When Budinger was still in the NBA, he had a practice at the University of San Francisco, and there, at the top of the rafters, was a jersey with the last name Budinger on it. His teammates looked up, laughed, wondered what the heck that was all about, and Chase just shrugged.
Yep, his family can ball.
So competitive were the Budingers that Duncan and Chase were barred from playing one-on-one basketball. Even board games were nixed.
Such are the compromises a family must make when all three children reach the top levels in their respective sport, and in Chase’s case, sports is plural.
He has a long way to go. He knows that. The Olympics are a goal, yes, but right now the focus is on fine-tuning — subtle nuances of blocking, setting, passing, siding out more consistently.
“It’s an ongoing thing,” Budinger said. “Just improving. You get to go on the beach every day, to practice compete. It’s a great lifestyle.”
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