Indianapolis – Former Indiana Pacer Chase Budinger will again take the NBA arena on Friday. But don’t play basketball. He would play beach volleyball there, a sport he has won in a way that he never did in the professional world of hardwoods and hoops.
Since retiring from the NBA, Budinger has become one of the top competitors on the pro beach volleyball circuit, a sport in which he goes back from his days growing up in California after abandoning an eight-year basketball career.
With partner Troy Field on Friday, Budinger will play in the inaugural AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) Phoenix Championships at the Phoenix Suns Footprint Center at the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Championships, which will run through Saturday.
The sand will be shipped to the arena floor for the season-ending single-elimination tournament. There will be six teams in each men’s and women’s categories to be crowned the best pairings of the 2022 season. There is a purse of $15,000 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 for seven years with Houston, Minnesota and Phoenix.
Still, when 6-7 Budinger was in the limelight, he was still thinking about volleyball, he told IndyStar in 2019.
“That was always the plan,” said Budinger, 34, “to play beach volleyball when basketball is 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 the National Player of the Year by “Volleyball Magazine” as a senior.
He was also a huge basketball standout with all the makings of an NBA star – and he really loved basketball.
When college offers came from all over the country, some to play volleyball, some to play basketball, some to play both, Budinger didn’t blink an eye. He didn’t have to think about it.
He was choosing basketball all the way.
Budinger signed with Arizona and was 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 Basconia.
“It’s tough going overseas from the NBA. I didn’t have the best of times,” Budinger said in 2019. “Totally different lifestyle, very gruesome.”
A year later Budinger began to think. Maybe it was time to make the leap to volleyball, as she had always planned. But he was not sure.
Then the phone rang.
‘Couldn’t resist that offer’
At the other end was beach volleyball’s LeBron James, Sean Rosenthal. The veteran beach superstar is a two-time Olympian and has 11 AVP Tour victories.
Rosenthal was heard talking about this former NBA player who was “serious” at volleyball. People were asking Rosenthal to examine him.
“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 has won three tournaments, including two last season, and has appeared in five other finals.
Budinger said that basketball has brought a lot to his volleyball game.
“My moral of playing basketball, I definitely brought it to the beach volleyball game,” he said in 2019. “It’s been a whirlwind of just learning the game, learning the little details of the beach.”
The Arizona Republic contributed to this story.
Follow IndieStar Sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.