Former Wildcat Chase Budinger rehabbing injury in Tucson
In mid-November, former Arizona basketball forward Chase Budinger torn the lateral meniscus in his left knee and is out until early March at the earliest.
The injury ruined the small forward’s fast start on a new-look Minnesota Timberwolves team, but at least this week there is a silver lining — Budinger will get to see the Wildcats take on No. 5 Florida Saturday night.
“The fans here are going to be ecstatic,” Budinger said. “There hasn’t been a game like this in a long time… I just know this place is going to be rocking and it’s going to be an exciting game.”
Since being drafted 44th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft to the Detroit Pistons before being traded to the Houston Rockets, Budinger has only had one chance to return and see his former team play in person.
February 10, 2007 Arizona's Chase Budinger drives to the basket during the second half of Arizona's game against Oregon, Saturday, February 10, 2007 at McArthur Court in Eugene, Ore. Arizona beat Oregon 77-74.
Even with the knee injury that currently has him walking on crutches, the two-time honorable mention AP All-American will get a chance to see the first match up between top-10 teams at McKale Center since No. 3 Arizona lost to No. 4 Stanford 82-72 on Jan. 10, 2004.
Budinger has attended several practices since returning to Arizona to rehab with athletic trainer Justin Kokoskie. While he didn’t specifically talk to the young Wildcats about the upcoming game, he did provide some general knowledge to pass on.
Budinger started all 100 games in his Arizona career, averaging 17.0 points a game on 46.9 percent shooting and 5.8 rebounds per game. One thing he took pride in, though, was his ability to stay on the court. Budinger never missed a game in his college career, and was a key member of a Sweet Sixteen run in 2009.
Now he’s had to sit around and rest his knee as he recovers from the first major injury of his basketball career, a feeling he’s still not used to.
“The hardest thing is just really mentally,” Budinger said. “Just staying focused with the rehab and being in high spirits because it’s a lot of down time.”
While Saturday’s game will provide a nice distraction from the injury, it won’t be easy for him to just casually watch as a fan. Budinger has trouble just watching the game for pure enjoyment, comparing himself to a dad watching his kids play.
“It’ll be a little different sitting and watching instead of playing,” Budinger said. “I feel when I watch games I do a lot of critiquing, especially college and high school games. Hopefully I won’t get too rattled out there watching.”
The current Minnesota swingman injured himself Nov. 10 against the Chicago Bulls, stepping awkwardly as he attacked the basket.
“Just the force I was going at made my knee twist and I felt something, felt it pop,” he said. “I knew right away something happened.”
Budinger couldn’t straighten his knee after the play, a bad sign he said, but he didn’t feel any pain at the time. Budinger was averaging 11.8 points per game and 3.5 rebounds in 23.5 minutes of play and helped the Timberwolves jump out to a 5-2 start.
Budinger has only been in the NBA for three seasons, but he’s already played with two notable Wildcat alumni — forwards Jordan Hill and Derrick Williams.
Hill and Budinger were teammates for three seasons at the UA and played together on the Rockets as well. In the offseason, Budinger teamed up with Williams after being traded to Minnesota in exchange for the 18th overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft.
But in Minnesota, the college connections aren’t limited to just Arizona — six of the Timberwolves 15 players were former Pac-10 or Pac-12 players.
“What’s really great this year is we have a lot of (Pac-12) guys on our team,” Budinger said. “There’s a lot of bragging rights being thrown around.”
In addition to Budinger and Williams, the Timberwolves run out two UCLA Bruins in Kevin Love and Malcolm Lee, an Oregon Duck in Luke Ridnour and Washington’s Brandon Roy.
Budinger was able to brag to Roy about Arizona’s 52-17 blowout of Washington, but as for the Oregon game, “not so much,” Budinger said.
Love and Lee also had boasting to do after UCLA stomped the Wildcats 66-10, but with Pac-12 play on the horizon, Budinger is excited to get some of the friendly banter started.
Williams and Budinger never played at Arizona together, but since the team is so close, the two Wildcats have formed a friendship, Budinger said.
“It’s kind of cool having another Wildcat to talk about your team, talk about your school (and) really have the school pride in the locker room.”
Williams, the former No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft, has been a focal point in NBA trade rumors since his role has been reduced this season in Minnesota. The second-year forward has seen just 18.8 minutes a game and since Love’s return to the lineup from a broken hand, Williams hasn’t seen more than 16 minutes in a game, including four games where he didn’t reach the court.
“Every player’s going to be frustrated if they’re not playing,” Budinger said. “But I think he’s done a great job at working hard and getting extra shots up and extra work in. He’s done great when he has got in.
“Yes, his minutes haven’t been what he expected but he’s been doing a really good job with what minutes he has got.”
Williams is averaging 8.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this season but is shooting 39.2 percent from the field.