Basketball has not seen too many phenoms the likes of Chase Budinger.
Think of a cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Michael Jordan.
The 6-foot-8 senior at La Costa Canyon High School with the mop of reddish-blond curls is arguably the most dynamic figure to appear on the San Diego County basketball scene since another noted mop-top, Bill Walton, patrolled the court for Helix High more than 35 years ago.
And while the Jordan comparison might sound overblown at the least and reckless hyperbole at the worst, the fact is that Budinger possesses both a high-flying, rim-rocking aerial game and a smooth, deadeye perimeter game that made Jordan an icon of the game.
But comparisons with the greats of the game have become commonplace for Budinger in a season in which he became the county's all-time leading scorer, led La Costa Canyon to the school's first San Diego Section championship, and was selected to play in the McDonald's High School All-American Game. He was also named California's Gatorade State Player of the Year.
Longtime San Diego Union-Tribune sportswriter Steve Brand recently suggested that Budinger might be the greatest basketball player ever produced in the county. And the comparisons between Budinger, a wing player, and Walton, a traditional post player, have grown more insistent over the past year.
"First, it is an honor to have people comparing me to him," Budinger said. "But I try not to take that in or make that comparison myself yet, because he has done so much more than I have ..."
With a soft chuckle that served as a muted confirmation of the absurdity of the notion, in a voice that barely topped a whisper, Budinger said, "I mean he was the NBA MVP."
Then he went on to say, "I'm just trying to make a name for myself. I try not to take that in and instead focus on my task at hand and hopefully I'll get as far as he did in his career."
There is a lot about Budinger, though, that screams typical Southern California teenager.
"I'm just a normal kid," he claimed.
On Saturdays he likes to play play poker with his buddies. His music of choice is rap, and when pressed to name an artist, he threw out Eminem. When it comes to movies, he goes for stimulating fare such as "Gladiator" or the first "Matrix."
"I'm a guy who likes all those action movies," he said.
That active streak was evident early on when his parents toted him along to the sports activities of his older sister, Brittanie, and older brother, Duncan.
"Since I was little, I always had to drive down to all the games of my brother's and sister's," he said. "My parents would take me because they went to every game. I always had a ball in my hands. I was the little kid who ran on the court at halftime to shoot around. And I think that has helped me. That, and watching them play. Then as I got older, playing my brother in our backyard. I was always really competitive and when he beat me that just made me tougher."
Indeed, Chase was pressed just to keep up with his siblings. Brittanie went to the University of San Francisco where she has been referred to as the "Legend of the Hilltop" for her volleyball exploits, ending her career with the two highest single-season kill totals in school history. While the week after Chase's basketball season ended with a loss in the state tournament, Duncan was named the MVP of the volleyball tournament in which his Long Beach State team played.