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Ex-NBA player Chase Budinger, partner Miles Evans surge in Olympic beach volleyball bid

Former NBA player Chase Budinger and partner Miles Evans are making a late surge in a bid to qualify for the Paris Olympic men’s beach volleyball tournament.

Budinger, a 35-year-old who converted to pro beach volleyball in 2018, and Evans, 34, rank third among U.S. men’s teams in a race for up to two Olympic spots in Paris.

The top U.S. team, Andy Benesh and Miles Partain, have a significant lead. Budinger and Evans recently closed the gap on the No. 2 U.S. team of Theo Brunner and Trevor Crabb.

They can overtake Brunner and Crabb at their next tournament, which starts this weekend.

Last month, Budinger and Evans defeated Brunner and Crabb on the sands of Manhattan Beach, California, to earn the lone U.S. spot available in the North and Central America and Caribbean (NORCECA) Tour Finals in the Dominican Republic that start this weekend.

If Budinger and Evans make the quarterfinals at that event, they will pass Brunner and Crabb in the race for a possible second U.S. men’s Olympic spot with a few significant tournaments still left in the Olympic qualifying window.

The U.S. has not yet clinched a second men’s quota spot in the Olympics, but it likely will later this spring.

Budinger and Evans, who were ranked 16th in the world at the start of May, are likely to finish high in the NORCECA event since it will include just one other team that is ranked in the top 20 in the world. Most of the world’s top teams are from Europe or Brazil, and thus ineligible for a NORCECA event.

The NORCECA tournament carries the same amount of ranking points as a mid-tier world tour event. So a deep run can significantly boost a team’s global standing.

Even if Budinger and Evans win the NORCECA event, the race for a second U.S. men’s Olympic spot will likely come down to the last event in the qualifying period: a top-level international tournament in Ostrava, Czechia, from June 5-9.

In high school in California in the mid-2000s, Budinger was a McDonald’s All-American in basketball and a Volleyball Magazine National Player of the Year in indoor volleyball.

He chose to play basketball at the University of Arizona, then was a second-round pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.

He spent all or parts of seven seasons in the NBA with four teams, averaging 7.9 points per game, then played a partial season in Spain before ending his basketball career in 2017.

“I decided to see how far basketball could take me,” Budinger, who played recreational beach volleyball with Richard Jefferson, Kevin Love and Luke Walton during his basketball career, said in 2018. “But in the back of my mind, I knew (I) could always go back to volleyball after I was done with basketball.”

Budinger turned to pro beach volleyball in 2018 and played with five different partners before teaming with Evans starting with the 2023 season.

Evans played indoor volleyball at UC Santa Barbara for two years before pursuing a pro career on the beach.

Budinger and Evans each won on the domestic AVP tour with different partners before teaming up. Internationally, each player’s best results have come since they joined forces last year.

In mid-tier tournaments in 2023, they won in China, finished second in Brazil and placed third in Thailand. They were ranked fourth among American teams before a strong late-season run last November.

Then last week, their world ranking was high enough to earn a direct spot in the main draw of a top-level regular season event for the first time. They reached the quarterfinals, marking their best run as a team on that stage.

Budinger is the latest basketball-volleyball combo athlete. The most famous was Wilt Chamberlain, a 2008 inductee into the California Beach Volleyball Association Hall of Fame.

Mike Dodd was drafted in the ninth round in 1979 by the San Diego Clippers. Mike Whitmarsh was taken in the fifth round in 1984 by the Portland Trail Blazers. Neither played an NBA regular season game, but Dodd and Whitmarsh did team up to win silver in the Olympic debut of beach volleyball in Atlanta in 1996.

Keith Erickson played on the 1964 U.S. Olympic men’s indoor volleyball team, then spent 12 seasons in the NBA, including winning a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972 with Chamberlain as a teammate. He also played part-time on the beach while in college and in the NBA, winning three tournaments, according to

John Vallely, who like Erickson was an NCAA basketball champion at UCLA under John Wooden, won the Manhattan Beach Open, the most prestigious annual beach tournament in the U.S., in 1969 with partner Ron Von Hagen. He then played two NBA seasons with the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets.

NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit contributed to this report.