Chase Budinger loves poker. He loves the challenge of the card game. He loves the strategy, the deception and the fact that no matter how well you play you are at the mercy of the cards.
One can only assume that Chase must be one heck of a bluffer when he's playing cards because he did not let anyone know exactly what was going on during recruiting. After the commitment he admitted that he had long favored the Wildcats.
"Chase was very clear," said Chase's father Duncan. "He's been a Wildcat fan since he was a little kid. To be able to play there is a dream."
In interviews Budinger never tipped his hand. He always had high praise for all of the schools he was currently listing. He never mentioned that he was a longtime Wildcat fan or that he was a fan of any school.
It turned out he had been following the program since he was much younger.
"I always had a feeling towards Arizona," Budinger admitted. "I always liked their school and liked their program.
"I always had a feeling towards Arizona," Chase continued. "I really didn't tell anybody that. Since I was a little kid I loved Arizona. I always had a feeling towards them but the past couple months it was Arizona for sure."
He never tipped his hand. Budinger claimed at his press conference that he had made up his mind after the Lute Olson Elite Camp in July. When Wildcat Insider spoke with him a month later he admitted having a leader, but made it sound like the battle for his services was very close, when in reality it was all but a done deal.
What made things even tougher was that unless you caught Chase in person, you just could not speak with him. The family decided to limit his media exposure. Phone calls to the house went to an answering machine and those calls were rarely returned.
Of course it just isn't the media who had to leave a message. Apparently the family just doesn't answer the phone unless they know who it is.
"Chase will have to leave a message just to get someone to pick up," said Suzuki laughing.
While many recruits and their families relish the attention, the Budingers seemed almost embarrassed by it.
"We loved the right attention," Duncan Sr. said. "At that particular time there were a lot of questions being asked that we didn't have any good answers for."
As the time to announce the decision came closer and closer they asked Suzuki to handle the media interactions. In a day and age where web site after web site is trying to get players to give up the scoop early, the family did not want Chase bothered before he was ready to reveal his choice.
"I think it was a lot easier for one person to handle it," said Chase's mother Mara. "Chase did not have to answer the same questions over and over."
NOT AT FACE VALUE
Budinger does not look like a big time basketball player. He is not hip-hop. He is more California beach bum than he is inner city cool. In a day and age where even suburban basketball stars look more like Eminem than Larry Bird, Budinger catches you off guard.
Even the most mature, well spoken players have embraced the hip-hop culture. LeBron James was the most ready high school to the pros player of all time, but he still had the tattoos and the Hummer.
Budinger does not look the part. He has a curly mop of reddish, blonde hair. Not quite Napoleon Dynamite, but not Slam Magazine cool either. Opponents often expect a heady, plodding player when they see him get off the bus. He's enters the arena without headphones or jewelry. There's little chatter and he focuses on the game. He looks more like Todd Marinovich or Boris Becker than he does LeBron or Carmello.
Maybe it's his look, maybe it is his build or demeanor. Heck, maybe it is even his race. Opponents are shocked when they first see Budinger play. It only takes moments to figure out that he is not a plodder. It only takes one highlight reel slam dunk to figure out he's not just a shooter. It only takes a few minutes to realize that Chase Budinger is as athletic and explosive as anyone in the class.
"He takes them off the dribble and bashes on them," Suzuki said. "He serves notice pretty quickly."
Forget comparisons to Luke Walton and Jud Buechler, Budinger has a lot more Ray Allen in his game than he does Luke Jackson. He's fast, he can jump and he can ball. He's so smooth out there that it seems as if he is almost gliding down the court before the throws down a monster dunk on the break.
"He is just such a smooth player, it looks like he is gliding on the court," said Chase's sister Brittanie. "I'll sit in the stands and people will say ‘whoa, it looks like he's ice skating down the court'."
It was funny watching people's reaction on the recruiting circuit. When Budinger would play people would try to figure out who he was. They would look at players who were more fit the mold of what they expect an elite level small forward to look like. You'd hear uninformed fans look at his SoCal All-Star teammate Daniel Hackett, who is five inches shorter than Budinger, and say "I thought he was 6-8?"
High school opponents in the San Diego area are now wise to Budinger, but that wasn't always the case. There was a time when the Mavericks took advantage of the uninitiated.
"There were a couple of games when the first thing we did was throw him an alley-oop," said La Costa Canyon head coach David Cassaw. "When he jumps that high out of the gym you can almost feel the air go out of the gym."
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