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Chase Budinger, former NBA player, shoots for Olympic beach volleyball

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NEW YORK — LeBron James. Dwight Howard. Kevin Durant. Harrison Barnes.

Just four athletes have been named MVP of the McDonald’s High School All-American boys’ basketball game and won an Olympic gold medal this century.

Chase Budinger aspires to be the fifth, despite having not played in the NBA since 2016.

“I’m a professional beach volleyball player now,” Budinger, a seven-season NBA veteran, said at the AVP New York City Open last week. “I’m still getting used to saying that.”

Budinger used his size — 6-foot-7 — and athleticism — he dunked over Diddy in the 2012 NBA Slam Dunk Contest — to transition to the sand.

Budinger is no stranger to the sport.

He played indoor volleyball in high school and was named the 2006 National Player of the Year by Volleyball Magazine.

For college, he decided among the University of Arizona, UCLA and USC. UCLA and USC offered the opportunity to play both basketball and volleyball, but coach Lute Olson sold him on basketball in Arizona.

“I decided to see how far basketball could take me,” said Budinger, whose older brother and sister both played college volleyball. “But in the back of my mind, I knew could always go back to volleyball after I was done with basketball.”

Budinger played beach volleyball every summer to keep his skills sharp and stay active in the offseason. He regularly partnered with fellow NBA players including Richard Jefferson, Kevin Love and Luke Walton.

About four years ago, Budinger moved to California’s South Bay, home to many of the nation’s top beach volleyball players, including two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal. During pick-up games, Rosenthal often suggested that Budinger try beach volleyball when his basketball career ended.

“I thought partnering with Chase would be low risk with a very high reward,” said Rosenthal, who competed at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics with Jake Gibb, and has also played with 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser. “Chase reminds me of guys like that. He moves so well for a big guy.”

In January, Budinger agreed to practice with Rosenthal while his agent solicited professional basketball offers. After a couple of weeks, Budinger was hooked.

“I get to bike to work everyday and practice on the beach,” said Budinger, who has not touched a basketball in three months. “It’s a good life.”

The transition has not been easy.

Budinger and Rosenthal had a daunting draw in their first international tournament as partners in May. They lost to 2016 Olympic bronze medalists of Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of the Netherlands, and were eliminated by three-time Olympic medalist Ricardo Santos of Brazil.

They also went winless in their first domestic AVP tournament, as Budinger battled the flu while they played under the unforgiving Austin, Texas sun.

“We’ve had some bad luck,” Budinger said. “But it’s like any sport. I remember my first NBA game. I think I had two turnovers and an airball in my first couple of minutes. Then in the second half, I was able to calm down.”

Budinger’s goal is to compete for a medal at an Olympics, either in 2020 or 2024. He acknowledged that qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Games “is a possibility, but a long shot.”

The U.S. can send a maximum of two teams to Tokyo. Dalhausser and Nick Lucena are third in the world ranking, but no other U.S. pair is in the top 20. The 2020 Olympic qualification period begins in earnest in September.

NBC Olympics analyst Dain Blanton agreed that 2020 Olympics is “possible” for Budinger but it “might be too soon.”

“The sky is the limit with Chase’s volleyball background and his competitive greatness as he has shown in the NBA,” said Blanton, a 2000 Olympic champion.  “He will be a force at the net as a blocker with his size and will also be a great attacker.”

Playing an outdoor sport is an adjustment for Budinger, whose high school volleyball teammates nicknamed him “Casper.”

“It’s been a lot of sunscreen and a lot of reapplying,” he said. “This is as tan as I’ve ever been.”

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VIDEO: Beach volleyball on top of a Ferris wheel

Mike Krzyzewski on his Rio Olympic wish list, LeBron James in 2020

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NEW YORK — Mike Krzyzewski, who stepped down as U.S. Olympic men’s basketball coach after three titles, made a rare appearance with Winter Olympians at the Figure Skating in Harlem Gala last week. There, he answered questions about Olympic basketball and why he was at a figure skating party …

OlympicTalk: Coach K and figure skating. How does that go together?

Krzyzewski: One of our dearest group of friends is Doug and Ellie Lowey [co-chairs of the Figure Skating in Harlem Gala]. And [businesswoman and gala honoree] Elaine Wynn has been one of our dearest friends forever. But the concept [of Figure Skating in Harlem] is what turns you on. We have a similar thing in Durham with the Emily Krzyzewski Center, helping first-generation kids who might want to go to college, to help them. This is such a unique idea. So, really [I’m here] in recognition to our friends, the Loweys. Then I’m going to introduce one of the honorees, Mrs. Wynn, who’s a dear friend.

OlympicTalk: What one thing would you change about Olympic basketball?

Krzyzewski: Well, I love our [Olympic] format. I don’t like the changes they just made, where the world championships [or world cup] are in 2019 instead of this summer [worlds, held every four years like the Olympics, used to be held midway between Olympics]. I liked the old format better, but I love international basketball and how well our game is played everywhere. Twenty-five percent of the NBA is international, and that will only continue to increase.

OlympicTalk: Why did you like the old worlds timing (2006, 2010, 2014) better than the new one (2019, 2023)?

Krzyzewski: I just think it gave the worlds even more recognition, instead of a prelude to the Olympics. It was its own entity. The world championships, there are 24 countries involved [expanding next summer to 32]. In the Olympics, there are 12. So, it’s different. The other thing I liked about it is when we won the gold medal, the coaches actually got one [gold medal] at the world championships [laughs].

OlympicTalk: Any players ever offer you their Olympic gold medal? Or USA Basketball make an extra one for you?

Krzyzewski: Oh, they do make an extra one, USA Basketball. And I’m good with all that. The coach has an auxiliary role, really, as compared to the players.

OlympicTalk: So you have three Olympic gold medals? What about when you were an assistant with the Dream Team in 1992?

Krzyzewski: I don’t have them from the Dream Team in 1992, but I do from Beijing, London and Rio, the teams that I [head] coached.

OlympicTalk: Say Olympic rosters were 13 players instead of 12. Who would you add to any of the 2008, 2012 or 2016 Olympic teams?

Krzyzewski: I would have liked to have LeBron [James] and Kobe [Bryant] for the 2016 team in Rio. But for those guys to make the commitments they do, after playing over 100 games for the year, is phenomenal. To get Carmelo Anthony, who did it three times, LeBron and Chris Paul twice, Kevin Durant twice and also a world championship, it’s an incredible commitment by all those guys.

Editor’s Note: Anthony and James also played for Larry Brown at the 2004 Olympics, where the U.S. took bronze. Bryant removed himself from Rio consideration in January 2016, his farewell NBA season, to give a younger star an opportunity at a gold medal. James passed on the Rio Olympics, citing the need for rest after winning the 2016 NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a decision Krzyzewski respected. James said in January 2017 that Gregg Popovich succeeding Krzyzewski as Olympic head coach in 2020 “factors a lot” in whether he’ll want to play. James has called Popovich “the greatest coach of all time.” Krzyzewski is staying on with USA Basketball in an advisory role.

OlympicTalk: Do you think LeBron will play for Gregg Popovich at Tokyo 2020?

Krzyzewski: I don’t know. You know what, once you served, it’s a big thing to serve again. We should not put any pressure on those guys to serve again. However, if they want to, our arms are open wide to hug them. But Pop will do an amazing job.

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MORE: USA Basketball names Olympic men’s player pool

Best Actress shouts out Chloe Kim as Olympians take over Oscars

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“I think this is what Chloe Kim must have felt like after doing back-to-back 1080s.”

Best Actress winner Frances McDormand capped an Academy Awards night with several Olympian attendees, including the first Olympic gold medalist to win an Oscar, by shouting out the teenage halfpipe champion.

Kim watched.

In other Olympian Oscar news, Kobe Bryant became the first gold medalist to win an Oscar (“Dear Basketball,” based on Bryant’s retirement announcement, for Best Animated Short Film), according to @OlympicStatman.

Norwegian Johann Olav Koss, the speed skater who won three Olympic gold medals with three world records at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games, held the Best Documentary Oscar won by “Icarus,” the film about Russian doping and whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov.

Best Supporting Actress went to Allison Janney, who played the mother of disgraced two-time Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the dark comedy biopic “I, Tonya.”

PyeongChang Olympians in attendance included Lindsey VonnMirai Nagasu and Adam RipponGus Kenworthy attended the Elton John AIDS Foundation viewing party along with Miley Cyrus.

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MORE: Best snowboarding moments from PyeongChang Olympics

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 04: Adam Rippon (L) and Mirai Nagasu attend the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 04: Lindsey Vonn attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)