August 27, 2006

Williams and Budinger making each other better

One of Lute Olson's biggest recruiting tools when he was trying to convince Chase Budinger to be a part of his program was the promise of competition in practice and how it would help make him a better player.

Budinger was told stories about Richard Jefferson's battles with Luke Walton, who then tutored Andre Iguodala, making him better and so on. The guarantee to go up against some of the best players in the country everyday in practice helped separate Arizona from its competition.

Even though Budinger has yet to play a college game, he's arguably one of the most highly touted small forwards in the country. On most teams, Budinger would be the man right away at the three position, but he joins a team with one of the top few wings in the nation in sophomore Marcus Williams.

With Williams and Budinger on the same team as Jawann McClellan and possibly Fendi Onobun and J.P. Prince, the UA could have the best collection of wings in the country.

With so much talent and depth at the position, what will really make all the small forwards in Arizona's lineup better is going up against each other everyday in practice. The bottom line is that in regulation games, it will be tough to find better competition than what the UA's wings face at McKale Center on a daily basis.

According to several sources we've talked to who watched Arizona's practices last week, a highlight has been the matchup between Williams and Budinger. While Williams has clearly gotten the best of Budinger so far, the freshman is learning quickly and it's making him improve, especially on the defensive end.

"Obviously Marcus is really good and he's been very good for Chase because he gives him the opportunity to go up against a future NBA guy everyday," said assistant Josh Pastner. "To go against a really skilled guy like that really helps Chase and gives him an introduction of what level he needs to play at defensively."

Through one week, Budinger has been quite impressed with what he's seen from Williams and definitely feels as if the competition has improved his game.

"Marcus is a heck of a player," said Budinger. "It's tough to guard him day in and day out. Right now Marcus and I are going at it and he's making me better."

Williams is equally impressed with what he's seen from Budinger.

"He's looking good," Williams said. "Chase is definitely a very talented guy. He's a great spot up shooter and I think he's going to do really well spotting up and finishing on the break.

"He's definitely a good outside shooter. That's a trait that is hard to come by nowadays from high-schoolers. He's very fundamental and that's good to see."

Assistant coach Miles Simon agrees that Budinger has improved thanks to playing against Williams everyday.

"On the first day of practice, Chase struggled defensively trying to guard Marcus," said Simon. "He just wasn't physical against him and was still playing high school defense, having trouble getting through screens.

"I talked with Chase after practice and brought him in for films the next day. I showed him the difference of how other guys were playing defense and how he was playing defense. He made the adjustments right away and has been better ever since."

As much as Williams is improving Budinger, it's important to note that the freshman is helping out the sophomore as well. Budinger brings a full arsenal of weapons when it comes to finding ways to score the basketball and it's helped Williams improve his game.

"Both players are improving in a lot of areas," said Pastner. "They're both going to make each other better. We've been mixing it up as well, so Chase is going up against different guys, not just Marcus, and Marcus is playing against others as well.

"The main thing is that our depth at the position has caused us to have a lot of great competition in practice, which is going to make each and everyone better. Each player is going up against a guy that's really good and it forces him to raise his game to another level."

While Williams and Budinger may spend a lot of time as opponents in practice, the two have also played quite a bit together as well. Needless to say, they've looked pretty good.

"When Chase and Marcus actually played on the same team during scrimmage, they were really good together," said Simon. "They both can really pass the ball and they were both very unselfish, which was great to see."

The more that Williams and Budinger play against each other in practice, the better they'll be individually. Ultimately though, how they play together on the court will largely determine Arizona's success this season.

What's important is that Williams has embraced the freshman, as opposed to trying to prove that Budinger won't be taking his spot. He's been vocal in trying to teach Budinger how to improve and is happy with his willingness to learn.

"He's definitely open to learning," said Williams "He's improving and I'm the one who's supposed to make him better. It's been a great learning experience for him."

As good of a player as Williams was as a freshman, you can assume that he won't be impressed by too many newcomers this season at the small forward position. However, he has the highest compliment for Budinger.

"He looks like a professional," said Williams.

With the way the two small forwards are making each other better in practice, it's safe to say that plenty of opponents will be mistaking both Budinger and Williams as professionals this season.

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