Two years ago, he was all but in the NBA draft – a skilled, 6-foot-11 bundle of potential out of Queens, N.Y. He even worked out for scouts in a session that required the NCAA to suspend him for some games.
But for a variety of reasons, Charlie Villanueva decided his basketball future would be best served with some time under the teaching of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, one of college basketball's best developers of talent.
"I wasn't ready then," Villanueva said. "I wasn't confident. My body wasn't ready. I needed to get stronger."
After two years, one national title, two Big East championships, numerous weight room sessions and a very strong end to his sophomore year, Villanueva is positive he is ready for the NBA now.
"I'm 100 percent," he said.
"Charlie is one of the more talented young men I have had the opportunity to coach," Calhoun said. "He leaves here with three [championship] rings. He is a terrific kid, a special young man. He has great talent, great character and he wants to be good."
Despite his size and shaved head, Villanueva is easy to overlook. He averaged just 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds as a sophomore, but NBA executives rarely care about numbers. They're only concerned about performance and potential.
With a face-up game, good athletic ability and an understanding of how to play, Villanueva won't last past the lottery.
"The question with Charlie is intensity," an Eastern Conference player personnel director said. "There are times he doesn't assert himself; he just lets the game flow. When he plays with intensity, he is as good as anyone."
Down the stretch last seasn, Villanueva turned it on for the Huskies, averaging 18.2 points and 9.7 rebounds in his final 10 games. That's the Villanueva scouts want to see.
"He can be as good as he wants to be," a Central Division scout said of Villanueva. "He'd be tough to pass up."
TOP POWER FORWARD PROSPECTS
1. Fran Vazquez, 6-10, Spain – He has a bangers game and is a good shot blocker, but he needs to add bulk (he's only 228 pounds).
2. Charlie Villanueva, 6-10, Connecticut, sophomore.
3. Sean May, 6-8, North Carolina, sophomore – The wide-body hero of the NCAA champs will have to get his mean streak going to thrive in the NBA.
4. Chris Taft, 6-9, Pittsburgh, sophomore – Classic power forward needs to prove he wants to play hard every possession.
5. Ike Diogu, 6-8, Arizona State, junior – Dominant player in the Pac 10 the last few years despite limited support. Space eater with great scoring ability down low.
- Charlie Villanueva