Charlie Villanueva

Year: 2003 - 2005
Position: Forward
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Charlie Villanueva was a Forward for the UConn Huskies from 2003 – 2005. He played a key role on UConn’s second National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Team in 2004, was a member of the Big East All-Rookie team his freshman year, and entering his sophomore year, Charlie was a preseason candidate for National Player of the Year honors. I had the pleasure of talking to Charlie in January 2006 as he reflected on his basketball experiences, and his first year as a National Basketball Association player.

As a youth, Charlie was more interested in the sport of baseball, however he followed his brother, who enjoyed basketball, to the playground, and Charlie said, “That’s how I basically fell in love with the game.” He played on Athletic Amateur Union teams with Taliek Brown (former UConn player), and against Ben Gordon (former UConn player). Upon entering Newtown High School in Queens, New York, Charlie became serious about his basketball skills. As a sophomore, he realized how good of a player he could be, and transferred to Blair Academy Prep School in New Jersey.

While at Blair Academy, Charlie, and his roommate, and close friend Luol Deng (NBA player for the Chicago Bulls), shared three consecutive New Jersey Mid-Atlantic Prep League Championships, and two consecutive New Jersey State Runners-Up Championships. Both were named to the McDonalds All American Team, and enjoyed the honors of being New Jersey State Co-Players of the year. “Sometimes Luol was the best player on the team, sometimes I was the best player. It was a good one, two punch.”

After Blair Academy, Charlie gave some thought to entering the NBA draft but withdrew his name. “I knew I wasn’t ready so I knew if I was going to play college basketball, why not play with the best program, and that was UConn.” There were a lot of schools recruiting Charlie from all over the country but staying local, and joining former AAU friends Ben and Taliek, were also factors in his college decision making.

When Charlie got to UConn the adjustment to college life was not much of a factor because he had already been living away from home at Blair Academy. Like UConn, it’s also located in a rural area.

The adjustment to playing for Coach Calhoun, Charlie said, “Was a little tough at first, he’s a very intense guy. It took me a little time to adjust to him, but I loved playing for him. I’d play for him for the rest of my life.” While at UConn, Charlie’s most memorable game was the NCAA semi-final game against Duke University. “We were down eight points with like two minutes to go, and came back to win the game. It just shows how focused, poised, and determined we were to win that game, and we all believed in each other.” Although the semi-final game against Duke felt like the championship game, winning the NCAA Championship Tournament Game against Georgia Tech University, to become the National Champions was a memorable game, and a great honor. Additional highlights in Charlie’s freshman year were being a member of the Big East All-Rookie team selection, earning Big East Rookie of the Week honors, and being named to Dick Vitale’s Midseason Diaper Dandy team.

Other memories that Charlie enjoys from his time at UConn were the Midnight Madness experience, and seeing the students setting up tents, sleeping out in order to buy basketball tickets. “It just shows the type of fans we have. They are really loyal to UConn basketball.”

Although in Charlie’s sophomore year at UConn the team did not repeat winning the National Championship, individually Charlie had a break out year, and declared himself eligible for the NBA draft in 2005. “I felt like it was my time to go. My heart was telling me it was the right thing to do.” Charlie’s decision turned out to be a good one. He was selected #7 in the NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors. “I’m really happy to be here. I’m playing, and everything is working out for me. I love the city, the people, and it’s a great situation for me.” Charlie’s parents are only a one hour plane ride away so they try to get to Toronto once or twice a month to watch him play, and one of Charlie’s brothers is currently living with him and able to see him play a lot of basketball. The adjustment, and it’s not a complaint, from college to the NBA that Charlie notices most is the amount of traveling involved, and the fact that in the NBA season there are 80+ games compared to a college season with 30+ games.

Charlie still follows what UConn is doing this year. At the time we spoke, Charlie knew that UConn was undefeated with 11 wins and 0 losses, Marcus Williams was returning to the team, and they were headed into some Big East games. When asked his thoughts on whether UConn will make it to the Final Four in 2006, Charlie said, “No question. I think they definitely have what it takes. This is the time of year when UConn gets on a role, and I think they are going to be just fine.”

Charlie’s thoughts on Coach Calhoun, “Coach Calhoun was great. He’s a Hall of Fame Coach, and I just want to thank him for getting the best out of me, and showing me the ropes because what I’ve learned from Coach Calhoun has definitely helped me in the NBA. I knew he was going to get the best out of me, and going to UConn was the best decision I ever made.”