Chase Budinger: Reaching New Heights

Photos by Robert Beck 

When you consider how many millions of kids compete in sports in the United States, it would seem like better odds to win the lottery than to compete at an elite level. Chase Budinger has taken those astronomical odds to even loftier heights. At the age of 30, after wrapping up a seven-year career in the NBA, Budinger earned his way on to the AVP Tour, the pinnacle of professional beach volleyball competition.

Growing up in Carlsbad, California, Budinger excelled in both volleyball and basketball at La Costa Canyon high school. As talented a volleyball player as he was, Budinger was receiving national recognition as a top recruit in basketball. As college approached, he needed to make a difficult decision.

“When I entered the University of Arizona, I stopped playing both sports and really focused on basketball,” Budinger says. “But before that, I played volleyball competitively. I spent some time on the AAU circuit and also Team USA on the under-17 team and the under-19 team. When I was deciding where I wanted to play basketball in college, my final 3 choices were Arizona, USC and UCLA. Had I gone to either USC or UCLA, I would have tried playing both sports in college. Since Arizona didn’t have a men’s program, I put volleyball on hold.”

Budinger declared for the NBA draft after his junior year at Arizona, and was drafted by the Detroit Pistons and traded to the Houston Rockets on draft night. “After being drafted, I started off with the Rockets and had a great rookie year,” he says. “After that, I got traded a couple times and spent some time in Indiana and Minnesota. It was a great seven years (in the NBA). Unfortunately, I had a couple knee surgeries which set things back and eventually ended my career.”

Though his knees could no longer withstand the relentless NBA schedule, Budinger wasn’t ready to extinguish his competitive fire. Rather than allowing injuries to dictate his life, Budinger decided that this time, he would put basketball on hold and give volleyball a try. Partnering with two-time US Olympian Sean Rosenthal, Budinger entered the AVP, Association of Volleyball Professionals.

“Even during my NBA playing days, in the offseason, I played a lot of recreational beach volleyball,” Budinger says. “I thought the sport gave my muscles a lot of work and wasn’t too hard on my knees and joints. After I knew I was done in the NBA, I thought volleyball would be a good transition where I was still able to compete without too much strain on my body.”

Though it is his rookie season, Budinger is making a strong showing with Rosenthal on the tour. As of July 8th,they’re ranked 5thout of over 100 teams. Going forward, Budinger has multiple competitive goals in mind.

“One of the goals is to play in the Olympics. Another goal, is to win the Manhattan Open here on the AVP tour. You get your name on the pier, and it’d be pretty special for that to happen, especially when I start having kids and I can tell them my name is on the pier.”

When asked about his favorite part of life on the tour, Budinger acknowledges that life in the AVP is a bit different than the NBA. “I love how every tournament is unique in its own way,” he says. “One week you’re playing on a pier in New York. The next week, it’s a beach in California. And then, you might be in a park in Austin, Texas.”

With the changes in venues, it creates unique challenges that Budinger hasn’t had to deal with as a basketball player. “The toughest part about getting started on the tour is adjusting to the elements you run into. You may get crazy wind one week and extreme heat the next. No week is the same and every week it’s a new factor you have to adjust to.”

Age 30 might seem daunting for an AVP Tour rookie, but the optimism that brought Budinger to the tour in the first place is continuing to fuel his dreams.  “There’s a lot of guys playing on the tour in their 40’s, and I definitely would like to see that in my future. I definitely love volleyball, and I want to keep playing as long as possible.”


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