Family. That’s the common link between three volleyball coaches with rich basketball backgrounds, collectively owning four NBA championship rings. Each transitioned to volleyball without any regrets.
To be fair, Jud Buechler skews the number of rings. The current assistant coach with the San Diego WAVE club team owns three title rings from the 1996-98 seasons with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Wayne Kreklow, the University of Missouri women’s volleyball head coach, accounts for the other one, earned with the Boston Celtics championship team of 1980-81.
The third coach, Tracy Rietzke, didn’t have the good fortune of playing pro basketball after an outstanding career at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kan. But after making the switch, the current coach at Rockhurst University in Kansas City ranks second all-time in NCAA Division II women’s volleyball with 1,065 victories.
When heading to the WAVE practice facility known as “The Big White Tent” in the North County area of San Diego, Buechler doesn’t stroll far from his volleyball roots on the beach.
“I started on the beach. That’s where my love of the game started and my passion for it,” said Buechler, the son of Don Buechler, a former volleyball All-American at San Diego State and later a recreational beach volleyball player. “My first tournament was a father-son tournament down at La Jolla Shores. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I think I could have been 8, 9, or 10.”
Buechler considered himself more of a natural in volleyball, but basketball ranked higher in priority. Buechler says UCLA, Pepperdine, and UC Santa Barbara offered him a chance to play both sports. He opted to concentrate on basketball under then-coach Lute Olson at Arizona.
From there, Buechler played 12 years in the NBA. When his basketball career ended, Buechler chilled. “I put so much work in every single day for 20 years. I shot baskets a ton. It was just burn-out time, so I took some time off when my oldest daughter Reily was 9,” said Buechler, who turns 45 in June.
Though Reily, now 16 and a high school junior with an verbal commitment to UCLA, sees her days with the WAVE dwindling, her younger sister Brynn, 14, also plays volleyball for the club. Buechler, after six years with WAVE, says he has no plans to cease coaching once his daughters have moved on.
“When it’s all said and done, if they’ll allow me to come down here, it’s just super-rewarding for me to come into this facility and work with these girls trying to be a positive influence in their life,” said Buechler from the WAVE office before making his way to one of the courts.
Nicknamed Special K during his college basketball career at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Wayne Kreklow knew basketball was in his future while growing up in Neenah, Wis., (also known as the town that produces manhole covers). During high school basketball’s off-season, Kreklow turned to high school volleyball, rather than football, which he figured would help him to avoid serious injury.
What Kreklow didn’t know was how much the foundation he gained in high school would be put to use. He has now coached volleyball for 14 seasons at University of Missouri. His wife Susan held the title of women’s head coach during his first six seasons at MU. In 2006, their roles changed and Susan is now the team’s director. Nonetheless, they’ve been coaching partners since 1994 when they were at Missouri's Columbia College, the place where both of them started their head-coaching careers.
“Honestly, I never really had plans to become a college volleyball coach. It really, truly just kind of evolved,” he said.
Like Buechler, Kreklow didn’t envision himself getting wrapped up in the basketball scene once his professional career ended.
“Coming out of basketball I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do, get involved in collegiate basketball,” said Kreklow, now 56. “I had been doing it the whole time and it was getting a little bit stale. Then, honestly, just growing up and going through all that stuff—college and then just kicking around for a couple years after that—I just didn’t know if I wanted to do that for a living.”
Kreklow finally found his passion: coaching volleyball and meeting Susan along the way. Their niece, Molly Kreklow, also hopped on board, and is now preparing for her senior season as a setter at MU.
Tracy Rietzke shot 77 percent from the field during his senior year in 1976 at Kansas Wesleyan, leading the nation on the NAIA level and even surpassing Sidney Moncrief (66 percent) in NCAA Division I play. Later on, after coaching both women’s volleyball and basketball at Rockhurst for a few years, Rietzke successfully measured his percentages when he decided it was time to commit to one sport.
“I thought with two daughters I’m going to opt for volleyball and spend a little more quality family time,” said Rietzke, who is in his 26th season at Rockhurst. “That ended up being a really good choice.”
Rietzke consciously let his daughters, Kylie and Morgan, decide on their own what sport to choose since they also played basketball.
“I felt like they could be pretty good basketball players, but as they got to ninth grade they said, ‘Dad, we just want to play club volleyball and high school volleyball.’”
In the fall both will be playing for their dad with the Rockhurst Hawks.
Could Chase Budinger of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves be the next to pursue volleyball once his basketball career is behind him?
“I know I’ll still be playing plenty of beach volleyball in the summertime, even when I’m old or retired. If my body is still intact and I’m still healthy, why not go to try to play in some beach volleyball tournaments?” said Budinger, who was sidelined for most of this season with a knee injury.
Budinger hails from San Diego and chose to play college basketball at Arizona despite offers from USC and UCLA to play both sports.
Buechler saw Budinger play high school volleyball. “He was incredible in high school. He was one of the best high school players in the country, if not the best,” recalled Buechler.
Before the NBA lockout ended in the 2011-12 season, Budinger competed in his first pro volleyball tournament in Hermosa Beach, Calif., with Dane Jensen, a former setter at UC Santa Barbara and an AVP player.
Originally published in June 2013