Former UA star Budinger: It's 'weird' without Arizona in NCAA tournament
PHOENIX — Usually around this time of year, Houston Rockets forward Chase Budinger wears his block “A” proudly as his alma mater makes its usual NCAA Tournament run.
He brags to his Rockets teammates about Arizona’s win against Texas or drubbing of Duke. Budinger doesn’t have that privilege this year, however.
With the Wildcats absent from March Madness this season, the former Arizona forward has no highlights to watch or games to TiVo amid his busy NBA season.
“It definitely feels weird not seeing them in the tournament,” Budinger said in the US Airways Center visitors’ locker room before the Rockets took on the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. “Of course it is. They’re pretty much in it every year.”
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.
Budinger was a big reason why Arizona remained a perennial tournament team. The former Pacific 10 Conference standout helped lead Arizona to the Tournament in his first two seasons before capping off his Wildcat career by carrying a Russ Pennell-coached team to the Sweet 16.
But as he has moved farther and farther away from his college career, only Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender and Alex Jacobson remained from the Budinger era.
”This year was the last year that some of my teammates were still on the team, so you still try to watch for those type of guys that you played with,” Budinger said. “But it’s sad not knowing anyone on that team anymore after this year.”
Despite his lack of familiarity with Arizona’s youngsters and incoming freshmen, Budinger isn’t worried about the future of Arizona basketball in the least.
“I think they’re in good hands though because Sean Miller’s a great coach,” he said. “I know they’ve got some real good recruits coming in and I think they’ll be on the upside.”
Budinger’s former team might not be entrenched in a postseason run, but his current team is, as the Rockets are fending off the Suns for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Rockets’ small forward struggled a bit against Phoenix on Sunday to the tune of 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. But with Houston battling the injury bug, Budinger is playing more minutes than he ever has as a pro, and that time on the floor is yielding good results.
He’s scored in double figures in six consecutive games and is playing 27.2 minutes per game during that stretch.
“The season’s been good. The team’s been playing well,” Budinger said. “We’re still in the playoff race right now and that’s all we can really hope for.”
Budinger went on to talk about losing his college teammate Jordan Hill in a trade to the Lakers, Fogg’s chances of playing in the NBA and his favorite memories in Tucson:
On the Hill trade: “It’s a bummer not having a friend, a teammate who I’ve known for so long. You’ve got to realize that that’s the type of business that we’re in and that’s going to happen. I contacted him and talked to him a little bit and he didn’t really want to be traded. He wished he could have stayed for the remainder of the season because he liked all the guys and everything, but hopefully he just gets an opportunity to play over there. He’ll fit in because he’s a young-big, and that’s what they kind of need over there is energy. Jordan can definitely bring that. He’s just going to need the opportunity to go out there and show it.”
On if he feels for UA guard Kyle Fogg because of Arizona’s shortcomings: “I’m happy for him though. I know one thing — he set a lot of records there. He had to have gotten the most minutes played and most starts and all that. I’m glad he’s up there on the leader boards. He had a great run and hopefully he can make it some day at the professional level.”
On Fogg’s chances in the NBA: “Hopefully. You wish him the best. He works hard. He’s a smart player. He’ll definitely be playing somewhere. If not here, he’ll definitely be playing in Europe somewhere.”
On participating in this year’s dunk contest: “It was a great experience. It was a great weekend. You meet a lot of people that you never get a chance to. It’s a pretty busy weekend because they have you doing a lot, charity work and interviews and photographs and things like that but when you get the fun stuff it’s a joy to be there.”
On if he still keeps in touch with Lute Olson: “He definitely calls and texts me all the time. He comes out to Houston a couple times a year and when he does, we go out to dinner.”