‘It was always the plan’
INDIANAPOLIS — Former Indiana Pacers player Chase Budinger will step inside an NBA arena again Friday. But not to play basketball. He will be there playing beach volleyball, a sport he has conquered in a way he never did the professional world of hardwood and hoops.
Since returning from the NBA, Budinger has become one of the top competitors in the pro beach volleyball circuit, a sport he went back to from his days growing up in California after leaving an eight-year basketball career.
On Friday, along with partner Troy Field, Budinger will play in the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball championship at the Phoenix Suns’ Footprint Center in the inaugural AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) Phoenix Championships, which will run through Saturday.
Sand will be shipped into the arena’s floor for the season-ending single-elimination tournament. There will be six teams in each of the men’s and women’s brackets to crown the best pairs of the 2022 season. There’s a $15,000 purse for the winning team and $10,000 for the runner-up.
Before climbing the ranks of pro beach volleyball, Budinger played one season for the Pacers (2015-16), playing 49 games, averaging 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. He played seven years with Houston, Minnesota and Phoenix.
Yet, even when the 6-7 Budinger was in the spotlight dunking, he was thinking about volleyball, he told IndyStar in 2019.
“That was always the plan,” said Budinger, 34, “to play beach volleyball when basketball was over.”
Basketball first, all the way
Budinger grew up where his feet hit the sand every day. At La Costa Canyon High in California, Budinger led his team to three volleyball state championships. He was named National Player of the Year by “Volleyball Magazine” as a senior.
He was also a towering basketball standout with all the makings of an NBA star — and he really loved basketball.
When the college offers poured in from all over the country, some to play volleyball, some to play basketball, some to play both, Budinger didn’t blink. He didn’t have to think about it.
He was choosing basketball, all the way.
Budinger signed with Arizona and went on to be the 44th overall pick by Detroit in the 2009 NBA draft. He played in the league for seven years, until 2016, when he left to play for Baskonia.
“It’s kind of tough going from the NBA to overseas. I didn’t have the greatest time,” Budinger said in 2019. “Totally different lifestyle, pretty grueling.”
After a year, Budinger started thinking. Maybe it was time to make that leap to volleyball, as he’d always planned. But he just wasn’t sure.
Then, the phone rang.
‘Couldn’t resist that offer’
On the other end was the LeBron James of beach volleyball, Sean Rosenthal. The veteran beach superstar is a two-time Olympian and has 11 AVP tour victories.
Rosenthal had heard talk swirling about this former NBA player who was “gnarly” at volleyball. People were telling Rosenthal to check him out.
“One of the best asked if I wanted to join him,” Budinger said. “I couldn’t resist that offer.”
Since then, Budinger has appeared in 27 AVP tournaments and 29 FIVB (international) tournaments in five seasons. He’s won three tournaments, including two last season, and appeared in five other finals.
Budinger said basketball has brought a lot to his volleyball game.
“Just my work ethic playing basketball, I definitely brought that over to the beach volleyball game,” he said in 2019. “It’s been quite a whirlwind of just learning the sport, learning the little details of beach.”
The Arizona Republic contributed to this story.
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Ex-Pacer player Chase Budinger in AVP Pro Beach Volleyball championship