Ex-NBA player Chase Budinger qualifies for Paris Olympics in beach volleyball

Aug 16, 2019; Manhattan Beach, CA, USA; Chase Budinger serves in a match against Angel Dache and	Brian Tillman during the AVP Manhattan Beach Open at Manhattan Beach Pier. Bundinger and his partner Casey Patterson went on to a 2-0 win to advance. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Budinger and his partner Miles Evans have qualified for the Paris Olympics in beach volleyball. Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The co-MVPs of the 2006 boys McDonald’s All-American game are both headed to the Paris Olympics this summer.

Kevin Durant, of course, will play for USA Basketball. Former NBA player Chase Budinger will play a different sport.

Budinger and partner Miles Evans clinched the second and final U.S. men’s beach volleyball spot in Paris with seven top-five finishes in nine events this year. The late surge in qualifying helped Budinger, 36, and Evans, 34, overtake fellow Americans Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb in the international rankings last month.

In the second-to-last event in the Olympic qualifying season in Poland last week, Budinger and Evans finished fifth and Brunner and Crabb failed to make it out of pool play. Brunner and Crabb then lost their first qualifying match on Wednesday in the Czech Republic when they would have needed to at least make the final to preserve hope of qualifying for Paris.

Reaching the Olympics further validates Budinger’s decision to retire from basketball in 2018 to take up beach volleyball. The switch represented a return to a sport that was Budinger’s first love as a kid growing up in Encinitas, Calif.

Budinger was a two-sport star at La Costa Canyon High in San Diego County, a five-star small forward in basketball and one of the nation’s top outside hitters in volleyball. He helped La Costa Canyon win three consecutive San Diego Section Division I championships in boy’s volleyball and would have had his choice of colleges had he chosen to focus on the sport.

Budinger instead chose to focus solely on basketball in college, putting any speculation to rest by signing with Arizona, which does not even have a men’s volleyball program. The former California Mr. Basketball was the Pac-10’s freshman of the year in 2007 and earned first-team all-conference honors two years later as a junior.

Selected 44th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets, Budinger spent parts of seven seasons in the league. When the Brooklyn Nets waived him during the 2016 preseason, Budinger played his final season of professional basketball in Spain.

The lack of interest from NBA teams was the catalyst for Budginger’s return to volleyball. Budinger, then 30, felt like he still had enough athleticism left to see where beach volleyball could take him.

Six years and a lot of hard work later, he has his answer. He and Evans will head to Paris hoping to pull another surprise and win an Olympic medal.

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