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Fortune's Future : Volleyball Circuit Keeps Him Busy at Home, Abroad

HOW THEY'RE DOING: One in a series

August 12, 1993|KIM Q. BERKSHIRE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DEL MAR — It doesn't take much to make Scott Fortune feel at home these days.

For the Laguna Beach native, a bright yellow Denny's sign and its familiar breakfast menu are comforts that may not be home, but for now, are the next best thing to being there.

"We were in Colorado over the weekend and Denny's was the only restaurant around," Fortune said recently from a Denny's booth near the Del Mar Racetrack. "We ate here every morning. I know this menu well."

In a commuter world where native languages and landscapes change as frequently as time zones and zip codes, the smallest dose of familiarity breeds contentment for Fortune, who hasn't sat still since well before the 1992 Summer Olympics.

And he shows no signs of slowing down or staying put. After the Colorado trip, the 1984 Laguna Beach High graduate who currently is on the Bud 4-Man beach volleyball tour, was in town barely 24 hours before he boarded a plane for a two-man tournament in Puerto Rico.

"I'm not home much," said Fortune, 27, who spends more quality time with his travel agent than family and friends.

The closest thing he has had to a vacation in 16 months was a six-day stay on the Greek island of Mikanos after the Summer Olympics in Spain. But even that respite turned into a recruiting trip that eventually led to more career options for the 6-foot-6 outside hitter.

"Someone, I'm not sure who, saw me and thought I must be interested in playing in Greece," he remembered with a laugh. "But I was already set in Italy."

Fortune's Olympic experience, where the U.S. team, among the favorites, returned with a bronze medal and a flurry of finger pointing, soured him. So he looked for a lift from the Italian leagues, which he had forsaken for years so he could remain on the national team on a full-time basis.

That decision was met with respect from players who didn't or couldn't stick it out.

"He was on the national team when it was at its lowest," said 4-Man's Tom Duke, one of Fortune's Team Op teammates who lasted six months on the national team. "He's tough. He stuck with it."

But his introduction into the Italian leagues only added to his frustration. His team, Brescia, had been newly promoted from a lower division and expected miracles from Fortune and longtime national teammate Bob Ctvrtlik.

"We had an extremely difficult situation over there," Ctvrtlik said. "They expected us to be two gods coming over to save them. Scott had a very, very rough time. I give him a lot of credit for hanging in there. The demands placed on you overseas are tremendous. You're not expected to do one or two skills well, they expect you to be perfect every time you touch the ball. If you win, you're a hero and if you lose, you're a dog."

Brescia was a mutt. Even the presence of the U.S. pair wasn't enough to help it finish better than 12th in a 16-team league.

So when the opportunity to play on the Athens-based Olympiakos team presented itself, Fortune was eager to make a deal.

"Most Greek teams don't have the money they have in Italy, but it's close to what I made in Italy, if I hit my bonuses," Fortune said. "Besides, they're having a lot of trouble in Italy. The Italian Mafia has trickled into the sport. Some of the salaries are starting to slip."

Fortune was drawn to a country that welcomed him with open arms. On a recent visit to complete details on his one-year contract, no fewer than five reporters and two television crews greeted his arrival.

As the first American male to play in Greece, he hopes--and is expected--to infuse new philosophies into his teammates' minds as well as their hands.

"They brought in some Russians, and they're not known for their work ethic," he said. "By bringing an American in, they hoping to bring the level of intensity up 110%."

On the court, Fortune said the Greeks block well, "but they're big and slow. They need to learn to pass and play defense."

Fortune in well aware that while Greek volleyball has made dramatic improvements in the last few years, it still isn't up to the level of Italy's top leagues. But after his experience playing for a mediocre team last season, he was willing to make the trade-off.

"There are five guys on the team who are on the Greek national team," he said. "I'd rather play five days at a real good level than seven days against a second team setter."

Does this mean Fortune has decided against a possible return to the national team and a shot at another gold, to go with his precious metal from 1988?

Not necessarily. He just hasn't decided, and won't until he's good and ready.

"Everyone always asks me about '96," Fortune said. "I don't know yet. All the controversy left a bitter taste in my mouth."

In part because he felt then, and still does, that the '92 team was known as the "bald team," that members shaved their heads as a statement of protest and not for what it did on the court.

"I want to get back to being known as a volleyball team," he said.

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