PGU Staff Writer AK Murthy
Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill are busy with there pro careers but they haven’t forgotten about their alma mater.
“We follow them closely,” Budinger said. “I think Sean Miller is definitely the right fit for Arizona. It’ll take a year or two for them to get back into the position they were in, but it will happen. Sean Miller is good with recruits and the coaching side, and he could coach them to become a top five program again.”
No one is going to tell you that Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill’s college careers went according to plan. They both came to Arizona with dreams of Pac-10 championships, Final Fours, and eventually developing into professional players. Instead, they got a hall of fame coach in the twilight of his career and two interim coaches with styles on opposite ends of the coaching spectrum. In other words, they didn’t get what they signed up for.
So through all the turmoil and coaching upheaval between the Olson and Miller eras, it was perhaps the most truly satisfying moment in the last 10 years of Arizona basketball to see Budinger and Hill lead the Wildcats to their first Sweet 16 since 2004 and eventually hear their names called by David Stern in the 2009 NBA Draft.
As Arizona fans know, Budinger and Hill didn’t see their last days as teammates when they left college. Now with the Houston Rockets, both players are in their second year and are starting to come into their own on the court after struggling to adjust to the pro game as rookies.
“I’ve been really watching film on my shot,” Budinger said. “A little bit is mechanical, a little bit is balance. I’ve been correcting it in practice and just working on it.”
Though Budinger’s averages are down from last year, whatever he has been doing lately has worked. He has hit double figure scoring in each of his last five games, including a brilliant 22 point (8-10 from the field), 5 rebound, 4 assist game against Jerryd Bayless and the Toronto Raptors.
“I just can’t settle for jumpers,” Budinger said. “I don’t believe I’m just a jump shooter. I have to get to the free-throw line, try to get some layups to try to get me going. I just feel good now. It feels good shooting the ball out there. My confidence is back.”
Rockets coach Rick Adelman has also noticed a change in Budinger.
“Chase has been playing better. He’s playing with more confidence and that helps,” Adelman said. That wasn’t just empty praise either, as Budinger has seen 20+ minutes in three consecutive games, just the second time that has happened in his pro career.
Though his minutes are increasing, Budinger is still a reserve for the Rockets but that is a role that he is starting to relish after spending most of his career as a starter. Many within the Rockets franchise believe that Budinger’s skill and energy could be a vital boost this year, and that he could be a future 6th man of the year type player if he continues on this trajectory.
“That’s kind of our goal as the second unit, to come in and bring energy,” Budinger said.
While Budinger is carving his role out on the bench, Hill has actually made his way into the starting lineup. He’s filling in for the injured Chuck Hayes, out for 2-4 weeks with a sprained ankle, which gives Hill a major opportunity to show what he can do in an extended role.
“He’s a very hard guy to replace,” Rockets GM Daryl Morey said of Hayes. “But we feel Jordan and Patrick (Patterson) and some of the other guys need to step up and have the ability to.”
While Hill moved into the starting unit, Patterson slid into Hill’s reserve role. Though Hill gets the nod to start, both players are playing nearly equal minutes.
“Me and Chase are both still learning,” Hill said. “The team has a lot of veterans and we’re picking up things a lot faster. We’re just out here trying to do our best.”
“It’s a good opportunity for Jordan and for the other guys off the bench,” Adelman said. “It could change. It’s based on how people do. Consistency is what we need. I can’t have a guy go out there and give us an effort and then the next game there is nothing there. The thing we were getting consistently with Chuck and Luis (Scola) starting, we always got off to a solid start. We had a nice rotation off the bench with Brad (Miller) and Jordan. I need someone to step in and be that player. Jordan is going to have that opportunity.”
Adelman is currently evaluating using Scola and Hill as the starting tandem, or using Patterson or Miller in Hill’s place.
Hill hasn’t seen a dramatic spike in his production, but the importance of getting the opportunity to play significant minutes cannot be understated. After being labeled a bust while playing for the Knicks, Hill has shown glimpses of the potential that made him the 8th overall pick in 2009.
That is especially true if Houston is indeed in advanced trade talks in attempts to get their hands on Carmelo Anthony. Many inside sources around the NBA have posited that both Hill and Budinger could be parts of trade packages that brings Anthony to Houston. If Hill impresses in his extended role, it could make him a more attractive trade prospect, one that teams in need of post players may be willing to roll the dice on.