The Arizona Wildcats basketball program took another hit Monday when sophomore wing Chase Budinger opted to declare for the 2008 NBA draft.
Unlike teammate Jerryd Bayless, who declared irrevocably for the draft Saturday, Budinger is keeping the option to return to school open by not hiring an agent, according to his personal trainer, Trent Suzuki. However, Budinger is projected as a fringe lottery pick by several mock drafts, and if he finds those predictions accurate, he is unlikely to return to the Wildcats.
"I think if he gets it confirmed that he can get something like" a top-20 pick, he would stay in the draft, Suzuki said. "I don't really know what his thought process is. Obviously, if he's a lottery pick, he'll come out for sure."
Budinger has until June 16 to decide if he wants to stay in the June 26 draft.
Budinger and his father, Duncan, told UA coach Lute Olson of their decision during a meeting at McKale Center on Monday afternoon. However, Olson refused to comment as he left his McKale office, and UA spokesman Tom Duddleston said only that the school planned to release a statement today but had no official confirmation as of Monday night.
A message left at Budinger's home in Encinitas, Calif., got no reply.
As of now, Budinger's combination of athleticism and shooting ability project him as a solid first-round NBA pick: DraftExpress has him No. 14, NBADraft.net has him No. 16, and ESPN.com's simulated draft projections place Budinger toward the end of the 14-pick lottery.
The May 20 lottery could have a bearing on Budinger's decision whether to stay in the draft, because he will be able to see if the teams landing in the 10-14 range could be a fit.
"You can't really say anything until the (lottery) pingpong balls drop and then you know," Suzuki said. "It's not rocket science. All you need to do is look at the rosters and see what a team's needs are. If he stays, he'll be one of the top wings in the draft, and if just depends if a team needs a wing."
A week after the lottery, Budinger will be eligible to go to Orlando for the NBA's pre-draft camp and, even if he does not play, will undergo individual tests and measurements. There, as well as during private team workouts, Budinger's elite athleticism could help improve or at least cement his draft stock.
All first-round picks (1 to 30) receive guaranteed contracts for two years, with the team holding options for years three and four and a right of first refusal for the fifth year. Second-round picks are not required to be offered guaranteed contracts, so many players who are unsure if they will be first-rounders opt to return to school.
"I don't see him going past 20, but looking at the people out there, it's a loaded draft," Suzuki said. "There's going to be quality players all the way to the end of the first round of this draft. Chase would have to be pretty sure he'd be a high pick to make sure he's coming out."
NBA officials are not allowed to comment on underclassmen before the list of early-entry candidates is released late this month. But Jonathan Givony, president of Draft Express, said Budinger could find a niche as a complementary player for a lot of NBA teams.
"If teams need a third option, a 6-7 wing player who's very smart, there's definitely a market for that," Givony said.
Budinger was Arizona's second scoring option this season, averaging 17.1 points a game. He made 38 percent of his three-pointers and 71.2 percent of his free throws while averaging 35.3 minutes a game.
If Budinger stays in the draft, the Wildcats would lose 48 percent of their 2007-08 scoring to early departures. Combined with the loss of seniors Jawann McClellan, Daniel Dillon, Bret Brielmaier and Kirk Walters, Arizona would be without a full 65 percent of its scoring from this season.
Although Bayless and maybe Budinger may be gone, Olson at least will have the services of forward Jamelle Horne next season. Horne's father, Johnnie, said Monday that Jamelle will stay at Arizona for his sophomore season.
Johnnie Horne had expressed reservations that Olson did not contact the players when he left for his leave of absence on Nov. 4, nor when he opted to make it a seasonlong break Dec. 6. UA players were told of Olson's extended leave by interim head coach Kevin O'Neill during a layover in Phoenix.
Another concerned UA player, guard Nic Wise, met with Olson on Monday but declined to comment. Greg Wise, Nic's father, was unavailable for comment but has said Nic wanted to make sure the team would not have a similar disruption next season.