Relentless pursuit pays off

When Chase Budinger signed his letter of intent on Wednesday it served notice that Lute Olson was not slowing down. For over a decade rival recruiters have pointed to Olson's age as a reason not to go to Arizona. Olson is over 70 years old, but his pursuit of Budinger showed he hasn't slowed down.

Lute Olson knew he wanted Budinger from an early age. He sent out then West Coast recruiter Rodney Tention to scout Budinger when he was just a freshman in high school. After that he went himself whenever he could. While other schools were still evaluating Budinger, Olson was pursuing.

"He actually started recruiting Chase when he was a freshman," said Chase's father Duncan said. "He was there."

"He was the one who mostly came," said Budinger. "He came a lot and that impressed me a lot."

While Olson's personal attention was pivotal, he wasn't the only Wildcat staffer to get high praise from the family. Chase personally thanked assistant coach Josh Pastner and then recruiting coordinator Jack Murphy (now video coordinator). Family friend Trent Suzuki called Pastner a "Grinder" and praised his constant commitment and pursuit.

When other people were drooling over his SoCal All-Star teammates Taylor King and Adam Keefe, Olson was making Budinger a priority. A year ago AAU teammate Matt Shaw was the top-100 prospect and Budinger was seen by many as an elite volleyball player who was also a decent basketball player. The Cats never offered Shaw, but had a scholarship for Budinger early on. Shaw dropped out of the top-100 and signed with Temple, while Budinger is flirted with the top-10 nationally.

"His talent evaluation is the best," said Suzuki said of Olson.

In fact it was Olson's presence at games that made the family realize just what a talent they may have on their hands.

"He saw me when I was a nobody, that impressed me a lot," Budinger said. "He told me that I was going to be one of the best players and that was when I was a nobody. Now I am considered a top-10 player and that impressed me that he saw that already.

"He did that with a lot of guys, Gilbert (Arenas) and Andre (Iguodala). None of them were top-10 guys. He just has a feel to see talent."

A few key events really pushed the Cats over the edge. Budinger and his family will point to the fact that Lute Olson came to Budinger's game just hours after the Cats fell to Washington State. That night Chase dropped 51 points on powerhouse Mater Dei with Olson, Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr in the stands. It was sort of Chase's coming out party. After that game everyone started to see what Olson already knew.

"It even showed my club coaches that I could play," Budinger said. "They did not know that yet."

Although Budinger was half joking, part of that was the truth.

"I went to him after the Mater Dei game and said ‘I didn't know you could play that well, I should have played you more'," said SoCal All-Star coach Pat Barrett.

He followed that up by attending every AAU game that he was allowed to view per NCAA rules. If the All-Stars were playing, Olson was in attendance. There were times during the Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas that all three Wildcat coaches were on hand to let Budinger know he was their man.

When it was all said and done Budinger let Olson know his decision the morning of the press conference. Although most media members had a clue that Arizona was the destination, they did not know it for sure until Chase pulled an Arizona cap out from under the table. Olson knew what the decision was, but even he must have been nervous because he called Suzuki shortly before Chase's announcement to the media. Whether it was to offer words of encouragement or to double check the decision is not apparent.

What is apparent is that Olson got his man.

"He was extremely happy," Budinger said. "You could just tell in his voice that he was extremely happy."


How bad did Olson want Budinger? He held off the nation's No 7 small forward, the son and nephew of former players. By all accounts Quincy Pondexter wanted to commit to Arizona as early as January. Academic issues gave the Wildcats an excuse to hold off the talented wing from Fresno.

It is a good thing that Budinger did choose the Cats, because Pondexter blew up on the national scene and the longer the Wildcat staff held him off the more he began to look elsewhere.

Eventually he wound up at Washington.

Olson made the call and it paid off. He held off the sure thing, the player who some feel has more upside and went with the player he wanted all along. In the end it worked.

Of course, many feel that it is Budinger who has the biggest upside in the class. Some recruiting analysts feel he has come close to maximizing his potential, but other disagree.

"What you've seen out of Chase Budinger is only the beginning," said Suzuki who works with other high level athletes, including big time basketball prospects Alex Jacobson (who verballed to the Cats) and Jeff Withey. "He has never concentrated on basketball for a full year yet. He's never had any extensive, high level coaching. In my opinion I think he could probably leave after one year. If he stays a third or a fourth year he could maybe win player of the year. With Coach Olson's energy and expertise he could take Chase and make him one of the best players ever to come out of Arizona."

Olson's energy was a major draw. While other programs try to use Olson's age against him, the family actually felt it was a blessing. Chase's mother Mara liked the fact that Olson was an established family man who was not leaving Tucson any time soon. Suzuki called him the "youngest 70-year old ever" and father Duncan was impressed by his vigor.

"You meet the gentlemen and he's one of the youngest coaches I have met from an energy level," Duncan Sr. said. "He's incredible."

Chase was not worried about age or energy or promises. He was swayed by Olson's track record in developing wings and winning games.

"Coach Olson is the best coach in the country," he said.

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