(L-R) Sean Rosenthal and Chase Budinger celebrate winning their semifinal match against at the AVP San Francisco Open on July 8, 2018 in San Francisco.
It was the beach volleyball match that Mara Budinger never wanted to see.
On one side of the net was her son Duncan Budinger, along with his partner Daniel Dalanhese. On the other side was younger son Chase Budinger, with partner (and two-time Olympian) Sean Rosenthal.
“I know that my mom and dad definitely do not want to see that game happen,” Chase Budinger said two months before that exact thing happened at the AVP Manhattan Beach Open last month in California.
To beach volleyball insiders, this meeting in the contenders bracket was run-of-the-mill. On paper, 18th-seeded Dalanhese and Duncan Budinger were clear underdogs against Rosenthal and Chase Budinger. Yet not only did the underdogs pose a challenge, but they took the favorites to three sets, and all the way to 17-15 in the third, an hour and 17 minutes of Budinger on Budinger.
To those outside the sport, however, the biggest surprise might have been seeing Chase Budinger in a pro beach volleyball tournament to begin with.
Doesn’t that guy play basketball?
Indeed, Budinger had quite the career on the hardwood.
He accepted a basketball scholarship to Arizona, playing under the legendary coach Lute Olson, and then the 6-foot-7 small forward parlayed that experience into an NBA career from 2009-2016 before playing one season overseas in Spain.
With his sandy blond hair and three-point shooting acumen, Budinger put together a solid journeyman career for four different NBA teams. In 2012, he was even invited to the Slam Dunk Contest, where he jammed over music mogul P. Diddy.
“I’ve never been so nervous,” he said.
But when his pro basketball career came to an end, Budinger had a soft landing spot in what might have actually been his best sport. Growing up near San Diego, volleyball was the sport for the Budinger clan.
Duncan, now 33, went on to play professionally overseas after competing for Long Beach State. Older sister Brittanie, 35, is the first player in University of San Francisco history to have her jersey retired.
Chase wasn’t so bad himself.
A two-sport standout at La Costa Canyon High School, he thrived as an outside hitter in volleyball, even earning Volleyball Magazine’s National Player of the Year award as a senior along with multiple scholarship offers.
After taking the 2016-17 season off from any competitive sport, Budinger, now 30, has gone back to volleyball and is making waves with Rosenthal, one of the giants in beach volleyball.
The transition hasn’t always been easy, though.
In his debut event as a pro beach volleyball player, at May’s FIVB Huntington Beach Open, Budinger hit his first swing into the net. Then the next. On the next, the guy who competed in the NBA dunk contest, whose vertical earned him the nickname “Air Bud,” got stuck in the sand.
These things happen. He knew that all too well. Though he cleared P. Diddy just fine in that memorable dunk contest, his first game as an NBA player didn’t start so smoothly, either. He had two straight turnovers and an air ball before getting pulled, which is roughly the equivalent of two swings into the net and a stumble through the sand.
“I never had a tournament where the nerves just went away,” he said. “It just went away over time.”
“Over time” is, well, it’s really not much time at all for Budinger. Barely a month after his introduction to the AVP, he and Rosenthal claimed fifth in New York City. Two events later, in San Francisco, he made his first final, losing in three sets to Ed Ratledge and Rafu Rodriguez.
“Rosie’s thing is just to make a Sunday,” Budinger said of his partner, referring to the final day of beach volleyball tournaments. “Once you make a Sunday, anything can happen.”
Heck, anything can happen on a Friday, too. A week after taking silver in New York, he and Rosenthal beat the hottest player in the world, Brazil’s Evandro Goncalves, in Gstaad, Switzerland, the most popular stop on the FIVB Tour.
“You just need repetitions after repetitions,” Budinger said. “I’m just trying to get better and better each time. Long term? I’d love to make the Olympics, to win a Manhattan Beach Open and get my name on the pier. Those are really cool goals of mine and some very memorable goals. Those are some things I have in mind.”