Is Chase Budinger the Future of Men’s Beach Volleyball?

At the 2012 N.B.A. slam dunk contest, Chase Budinger ran up behind Diddy, intercepted his upward toss, launched his 6-foot-7 body over the rapper’s head, and smashed the ball into the web in a single swoop.

Now the seven-year N.B.A. veteran is making a compelling encore.

Not on the hardwood, the place he earned greater than $18 million enjoying small ahead for Houston, Minnesota, Indiana and Phoenix. And not on the indoor volleyball courtroom the place he was the nationwide highschool participant of the yr in 2006.

Instead, Budinger has spent the final two years establishing himself as a critical contender in skilled seashore volleyball.

Budinger’s determination to depart basketball wasn’t simple.

In late 2017, he was receiving provides to play abroad, however he wasn’t getting picked up by an N.B.A. crew. Basketball was his old flame, however he was getting impatient.

“I didn’t want to sit around waiting” he stated.

Budinger will not be the first N.B.A. participant to transition to seashore volleyball. Most notably Wilt Chamberlain and Keith Erickson are each enshrined in the California Beach Volleyball Association Hall of Fame. Beach volleyball can also be in style amongst retired N.B.A. stars comparable to Luke Walton, Richard Jefferson and Steve Nash, in addition to the present Pistons star Blake Griffin, who’re all avid four-man gamers.

Budinger, although, is the first N.B.A. participant to pursue professional seashore volleyball full-time on two established excursions. And right here’s the factor about Budinger: he’s actually good, perhaps adequate to star for the United States at the Olympics in two-man seashore volleyball, an particularly brutal kind of the recreation.

“You can bring out the best athletes in the world and we will absolutely destroy them because the skill base is so important,” stated Casey Patterson, a 2016 Olympian and Budinger’s present teammate. “Chase has that historical past of indoor, and he performed a place the place these abilities have been essential to be an influential participant.”

Budinger, who was an outdoor hitter in indoor, has change into half of an age-old pattern amongst elite athletes, who sometimes attempt to switch their abilities from one sport to a different. Bob Hayes received two gold medals in monitor after which went on to win a Super Bowl ring. Eric Heiden received 5 gold medals in speedskating then competed in the Tour de France.

Despite his standing as an indoor volleyball phenom rising up in Encinitas, Calif., with an older brother and sister who additionally performed basketball and volleyball, there was by no means something about volleyball on Budinger’s “dream board.” (Instead, it featured Michael Jordan quotes, the N.B.A. brand, and a silver Ferrari.)

In school he opted to concentrate on basketball, enjoying for Lute Olson at the University of Arizona. After three years, Detroit picked him in the second spherical of the 2009 N.B.A. draft and traded him to Houston the identical day.

In 2011, throughout the N.B.A. lockout, Budinger dropped a public trace about his future when he entered a professional seashore volleyball match with a buddy from house.

“It was a spur of the moment thing,” he stated, and it didn’t precisely make him keen to vary sports activities. “It just showed me how much tougher beach volleyball was, how exhausting,” in comparison with basketball.

At the identical time, he knew that N.B.A. careers not often lasted longer than 10 or 12 years. Even if he retired in his early 30s, he might nonetheless have 10 prime years on the professional seashore scene. “So that was my game plan: when my basketball career was done, go play beach volleyball,” he stated.

Budinger’s N.B.A. profession stalled at 27. So he was open when the two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal approached, but it surely took him a month to determine. “The toughest part,” he stated, “was putting basketball behind me.”

Budinger nonetheless misses the N.B.A. life-style — the crew bonds, the bodily contact. “Some days I wake up and just want to push and hit people,” he stated.

On the flip facet, he stated, “I don’t miss waking up and having my back hurt, my knees hurt, and never getting enough sleep. My body’s feeling great now!”

At 210 kilos, he’s eight kilos lighter than his N.B.A. weight. He additionally misplaced two inches from his waist.

Last yr, as a rookie, Budinger teamed with Rosenthal and finishes second at an A.V.P. tour cease in San Francisco. This yr, Budinger and Patterson have already positioned fifth on the F.I.V.B. worldwide tour, in Brazil, in May, and have made two top-three finishes on the A.V.P. circuit. They subsequent play in Switzerland, the place they’ll attempt to to accrue helpful F.I.V.B. factors towards Olympic qualifying. A 2020 Tokyo Olympic berth could also be a protracted shot given the depth of American expertise and the two-team-per-country restrict, however count on to see Budinger “for sure in 2024 and 2028,” stated Tyler Hildebrand, the director of teaching for the USA Volleyball seashore nationwide crew program.

“He’s so far ahead intellectually, with his beach volleyball I.Q. — as far as understanding, not execution — than probably 80 percent of our longtime players,” Hildebrand stated. “He moves incredibly fast. He jumps extremely well. He’s an unbelievably good passer — hardly anyone at that height is a good passer.”

Budinger has two key belongings for passing: a “great platform,” Hildebrand stated, referring to the method a participant’s arms match collectively and kind a flat floor when they’re absolutely prolonged, and “he creates nice angles. The volleyball is barely going to react off the angle it hits. You may very well be standing on one foot going through the different method, however should you create an angle and the ball hits towards your goal, it’s a very good go.”

Budinger can also be “a great hand setter,” Hildebrand stated. Many gamers will bump set as an alternative, afraid that the referee will name them for double-hitting the ball. “Chase doesn’t fear that.”

But gamers agree that Budinger’s finest expertise is obstructing, which is especially troublesome as a result of it entails timing, deception and studying the hitter.

“A hitter can hit to the angle, to the line, hit high, close their eyes and swing, shoot it over you, and they have a huge range of speeds, angles, and directions to hit the ball,” Hildebrand stated. Unlike indoor volleyball, on the seashore there is just one blocker and one defender — and lots of courtroom.

Effective blocking will not be measured in statistics alone. A blocker should additionally instill concern to make the attacker hesitate. To that finish, Budinger typically dips into Hildebrand’s assortment of 6,000 match movies to check opponents’ tendencies, their arm speeds and when to time his leap.

The U.S. has some of the finest blockers in the world in the 2008 Olympic gold medalist Phil Dalhausser, 39, and Jake Gibb, 43, however neither is more likely to vie for an additional Olympics previous 2020, which is why Budinger, 31, is important to the nation’s future medal hopes.

His every day routine consists of two 90-minute practices separated by a prolonged break to simulate the competitors format on tour, the place athletes play a number of matches per day. He’s earned about $46,000 thus far, a tiny fraction of what he made as an N.B.A. participant.

And whereas he’s not paid to protect Lakers and Cavaliers, he would relish an All-Star day at the seashore. “I would love to see LeBron on the sand — or Kobe,” he stated, “to see athletically what level they would be at.”

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