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In New Volleyball Venture, Buck Starts Here--Boldly : Volleyball: Four-man league debuts with talent, financial backing and a belief that its game is better than two-man.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Craig Buck’s venture into the new four-man beach volleyball league, which debuts this weekend at Crystal Pier, will be a success.

He simply knows it.

Why wouldn’t it be? Buck, 32, has not encountered much failure during his 15-year volleyball career. He has been a two-time All-American at Pepperdine, a member of two U.S. Olympic gold-medal teams, a World Cup champion, an All-World participant and most recently, a member of the Italian League All-Star team.

Buck, a captain Team Laguna, one of the league’s five teams, cannot think of a good reason why the American Beach Volleyball League (ABVL) wouldn’t prosper like two-man beach volleyball has.

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“We’ve got a better game than two-man, the same environment as two-man, good financial backing and quality players,” Buck said.

He is excited about Michelob Light’s sponsorship the tour--more than $200,000 will be up for grabs in seven events--and ESPN will televise each final. But he feels the ABVL will be a success because the concept is better than two-man volleyball.

“We’ve simply got more strategy, more options, more scoring and we will be more entertaining to watch,” Buck said. “The two-man game is just a lot of side-out, side-out.”

Buck feels the two-man game has reached a point of diminishing returns.

“It’s a great game to come down to the beach and play, but its downfall is that it lacks the rallies and the sophistication,” Buck said.

All this, coming from a guy who admittedly never has been a great two-man player.

At 6-foot-8, Buck is a role player. He’s a middle blocker/hitter and nothing else.

“My height is a little bit of a detriment to the two-man game,” he said. “I do two things and I do them well, but you have to be able to do a lot of things in two-man. Our league is a little more specialized. It gives the setters, defensive specialists and blockers more of a role.”

Buck and Craig Elledge, the league’s founder and president, like to think their league is more balanced than the two-man or Assn. of Volleyball Professionals league. They believe people are getting tired of Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos winning the AVP tour events every week.

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“Two-man’s been top heavy,” Elledge said. “The best two athletes are going to get together and dominate, which they’ve done. That’s why all other leagues have drafts.”

Including the ABVL. Buck and four other captains drafted six players each April 30; the last two are members of a taxi squad or injured reserve. ABVL coaches can also make trades and waiver deals. Buck and four other team captains chose from a pool of 75 players. They wound up selecting nine U.S. Olympic gold medalists and 19 former collegiate All-Americans.

Buck picked two defensive setters, Jim Nichols and Steve Rottman, and a hitter, Troy Tanner. This week at Moonlight Beach, Buck was running through plays and strategies as if he were an NBA coach.

“We will have three different plays and nine options on those plays,” Buck said. “Each option will depend on how you handle the ball initially. If the ball is passed well, then you have that many more possibilities.”

Although the concept is similar to regulation or six-man volleyball, Buck realizes there might be some initial confusion among himself and his players. At times, Buck wonders if he has picked the right combination of players.

“I’m nervous,” he said. “I want to do well. I’m sure there will be some kinks. But I expect some victories.”

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Buck might also have higher expectations for the ABVL than other players, because he considers himself one of the league’s top spokesmen.

“I had hoped for a four-man league for quite a while,” he said. “I knew that AVP was only in one city a weekend and I thought there was plenty of room for another league. We wanted to take the same things that made the six-man game exciting and bring them to the beach.”

Once Elledge decided to go ahead with the ABVL, he immediately called Buck.

“Craig has been a strong supporter and he has been our No. 1 ally in promoting this,” Elledge said. “He’s the guy we knew we needed.”

Buck already is looking past the growing pains and toward expansion.

“I’d like to see this get to cities,” he said. “I think this is the first step toward team beach volleyball. For instance, you would have teams in Santa Monica playing teams from Pacific Beach, and so on.”

Some awfully big plans for a league that has yet to play its first games. But then, Buck is an awfully big man with history of big-time accomplishments.

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