VAN NUYS — Jim Buck figures the best player he ever coached at Van Nuys High was Vince Van Patten.
The same Vince Van Patten who went on to become a touring professional. The same Vince Van Patten who went on to become a well-known actor.
"I tossed him off the team," Buck said matter-of-factly. "He missed too many matches."
A coach can make it sound like no big deal when he's got 30 years under his belt.
And when his teams have won three City 3-A titles in the last five years.
And especially when he has retired.
Having led the Wolves to a second consecutive championship last month, Buck called it quits when the school year ended on Thursday. The 61-year-old coach leaves as an established winner and an indelible link in the chain of Southern California tennis heritage.
Buck became a fixture on the scene decades ago as a junior player. In those days, he was actually more enthusiastic about badminton. However, "there was no school that gave a badminton scholarship," he said. "So I concentrated on tennis."
His skills were sufficient to earn him a spot on the 1958 USC team that, with Alex Olmedo, won a national championship. Buck was not only playing, he was learning a thing or two about coaching from George Toley, who led the Trojans to 10 titles from 1954 to 1980.
"George let us be human," Buck said. "The night before a match, he'd let us play poker and relax a bit. Then at 10:30, it was lights out."
The Van Patten story suggests Buck was a bit stricter. He had all three Van Patten brothers--Vince, Nels and Jimmy--on his team. He also coached a young Dave Borelli.
"He taught me how to hit that big American twist serve and how to return it," Borelli recalled. "He could kick that big serve as much as anybody I've ever seen."
Borelli put the lesson to use as a player at USC and later as coach of the Trojan women's team, which he guided to six national championships between 1977 and 1985.
"I like my kids to come in, chipping and charging, using that heavy serve," said Borelli, who teaches in Fresno. "That's a lot of what I learned from Jim Buck."
As the years went by, Buck got fewer and fewer top-ranked juniors at Van Nuys.
"Now, the real good kids don't play high school tennis," he said. "They're too busy on the tournament trail."
The ones left over lean toward academics, especially at Van Nuys, where many of the players have come for the school's math magnet classes.
They are kids such as Vincent Hsu, a UCLA-bound senior who led the Wolves to their two recent championships.
"These kids are more interested in grades," Buck said.
Still, Buck won all his titles in recent years after Van Nuys was dropped from 4-A to the less-competitive 3-A.
In retirement, Buck will continue to help his wife, Annette, run tournaments throughout the region and will coach junior teams for the Southern California Tennis Assn., a long-time duty that has seen him work with the likes of Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Lindsay Davenport.
"He's been very instrumental for many of the top juniors from Southern California," Borelli said.
After all these years, tennis is a way of life.
"I've met so many wonderful people," Buck said. "I've traveled to Europe 15 times. It has opened up a wonderful world for me."