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Charlie Villanueva on Kansas, UConn and the NBA

Blair Academy, N.J. standout talks about his recent visit to Lawrence, his interest in Kansas and his NBA draft status in an exclusive Phog.net interview. <img src="http://media.theinsiders.com/media/site_logo/premium.gif">

Touted as the nation's third-best player in the Class of 2003 behind LeBron James (NBA) and Blair teammate Luol Deng (Duke), Charlie Villanueva, a 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward, averaged 18.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks this past season, while tallying 1,240 points during his three-year prep career.

The 18-year-old, McDonald's All-American originally committed to Illinois in November under the careful watch of former Fighting Illini coach and current Jayhawk coach Bill Self. Upon declaring for June 25th's NBA draft on May 11, Villanueva has until June 19 to withdraw and attend college.

If he chooses that route, Villanueva will pick between Kansas, which he visited on May 7, and Connecticut. He previously considered Illinois, North Carolina and UCLA.

A talented scorer, both inside and outside, the Queens, N.Y. native is a dominating prep player with tremendous athleticism. Despite that skill, there are questions if he's developed enough to jump straight from high school to the NBA.

Some say yes, others say no, which explains why scouts project anywhere from the middle of the first round to as low as a mid-second rounder.

Nonetheless, Phog.net caught up with Villanueva after school today, on the eve of his unofficial visit to UConn, for an another exclusive Phog.net interview.

Phog.net: Charlie, regardless of your recent announcement to enter the NBA draft, how was your visit to Kansas earlier this month?

Villanueva: "I enjoyed it a lot. The people treated me great. Jayhawk fans are very dedicated to their hoops. The players were great and so was the coaching staff. They (the coaching staff) were the main reason I chose
Illinois originally, so I wanted to give them that same opportunity (to
recruit me) to Kansas, because they're so great."

Phog.net: What did Coach Self tell you during trip?

Villanueva: "He didn't say much, because I've already been through all the talking and process with him. He just told me to have a good time with the fellas and see for myself what Kansas offers. I did and liked it."

Phog.net: If you were to attend college, is Kansas the favorite for your services?

Villanueva: "That's tough. It's going to come down to Kansas or UConn. They're two great programs that I'm looking at right now."

Phog.net: What do you like most about Kansas?

Villanueva: "The players. They really welcomed me. They're from all over the country, so I enjoyed the different players from different backgrounds working together. I really liked the unity."

Phog.net: What Kansas player did you hit it off with most?

Villanueva: "Everybody. Langford, Simien and Miles were all cool. I really enjoyed myself while I was out there (in Lawrence)."

Phog.net: What's your favorite memory from your visit to Lawrence?

Villanueva: "Playing the pick-up games and seeing a couple hundred people show up to watch. That really stuck with me."

Phog.net: During your visit, you played against Nick Collison. In your opinion, how do you think you fared against him?

Villanueva: "He's a big, strong player. We pretty much went at it. It was quite a battle."

Phog.net: Who got the better of the match-up, you or Nick?

Villanueva: "It was equal to me."

Phog.net: Tell us about Coach Self. What are your thoughts on him?

Villanueva: "He's a stand up guy. He's real cool. He's a family type guy. I really see him as like a father. He's a pretty cool guy and I enjoy being around him."

Phog.net: Speaking of Coach Self, what's your opinion of him leaving Illinois for Kansas?

Villanueva: "I pretty much knew it was going to happen, so that's why I never signed a letter of intent with Illinois. I don't blame him (for leaving Illinois). Kansas is a great opportunity for him, just like me going to the NBA. It's a great move, because of his family and his future. I see it (him going to Kansas) as a positive."

Phog.net: Where you even considering Kansas before Coach Williams decided to take the job at North Carolina?

Villanueva: "Before he left, no, not at all. They weren't recruiting me. I didn't feel like I belonged there, but it's a different story now that Coach Self is there."

Phog.net: Only 35 days remain until the NBA Draft, which leads to our next question, do you plan to stay in the draft?

Villanueva: "It's always been my dream to play in the NBA. Now that I've got that opportunity, it's just a matter of me seizing it and that's what I'm going to do."

Phog.net: Where do you see yourself being selected in the NBA draft?

Villanueva: "My goal is to be a first-round pick. I'm going to do whatever it takes to do that."

Phog.net: Can you give us a percentage of you staying in the NBA draft?

Villanueva: "No, because it's all going to come down to the workouts. It just depends how I feel after the workouts. Until then, I can't give you an answer."

Phog.net: How have people responded to your decision to declare for the NBA draft?

Villanueva: "They're (scouts) talking about that I've got a chance to be a mid-to-late first-round pick. They've also said I could be an early second-rounder. Again, it's going to come down to the workouts."

Phog.net: Would you still interested in being a NBA player if you were selected in the second round?

Villanueva: "Not at all, because second-rounders aren't guaranteed money. If I knew I was going in the second-round, I'd definitely go to college."

Phog.net: What NBA teams have expressed the most interest in you?

Villanueva: "I really don't know."

Phog.net: Have you arranged any personal workouts yet?

Villanueva: "They haven't been decided yet, because I'm not finished with school yet. I'm done May 24th. Once that happens, I'm going to sit down with my family and make a plan for the Chicago workout (June 3-6). Then, I'll schedule individual (workouts)."

Phog.net: With all that being said, what are the odds you'll attend Kansas?

Villanueva: "It's a possibility, but the NBA is my main focus right now. If it doesn't work, then I'll look at college."

Phog.net: How will you know if the NBA won't "work out?"

Villanueva: "After I do the workouts. That's when I'll know if I'm ready to do this. I should know by then."

Phog.net: Who is advising your decisions?

Villanueva: "My family and my AAU coach Gary Charles (Long Island Panthers)."

Phog.net: How serious is your interest in Connecticut?

Villanueva: "I'm really looking into them, because they're close to home and I'd like to play at The (Madison Square) Garden."

Phog.net: Does it matter to you that the Big East as we know it might be in danger of collapsing?

Villanueva: "Not really, I won't be there by the time it happens anyway."

Phog.net: What are biggest strengths on the basketball court?

Villanueva: "My height, because I'm 6-foot-10 and I can play both inside and outside. I'm very versatile, which gives me an advantage over bigger defenders, because I can step out on the perimeter. If I've got a smaller defender on me, I just take them to the post."

Phog.net: What are your weaknesses on the basketball court?

Villanueva: "I need improvement on everything to play at that next level (the NBA). I'm not satisfied with where I'm at right now. I think I can improve on everything, both offense and defense."

Phog.net: We've all heard you compared to former North Carolina-Charlotte and current Denver Nugget forward Rodney White, but who do you like to compare yourself to?

Villanueva: "Back in the day, people said I was like Larry Nance (former Cleveland Cavalier and two-time NBA All-Star), but now it's Lamar Odom (current Los Angeles Clippers' small forward)."

Phog.net: If you were to go to college, what will separate Kansas and Connecticut?

Villanueva: "It'll come down to which school I feel most comfortable with. I haven't taken my visit to UConn yet (Villanueva will visit Storrs, Conn., tomorrow), but once I do I'll know where I feel more comfortable at."

Phog.net: Can you see yourself playing in a Jayhawk uniform?

Villanueva: "Most definitely, just like I can see myself in a Huskies uniform. As for a favorite, I can't give you a straight up answer."

Phog.net: Where do you see Kansas basketball in the future?

Villanueva: "Winning national championships. Coach Self is a great coach and everywhere he's been, he's been a winner. I feel like he's got a good chance at winning (national championships)."

Phog.net: You've got your own web site-charlievillanueva.org-but the real question is, do you visit Phog.net?

Villanueva: "Of course I do. It's great. I'm always checking the message boards. It's a great site. I like it."

Phog.net: Any words for Phog.net's members?

Villanueva: "Only time will tell what I'm gonna do, but I enjoyed myself out there (in Lawrence). I love the people in Kansas. They were great to me."

Phog.net: Last question for you, how did the Kansas coeds treat you during
your visit?

Villanueva: "They were good to me (laughing). There are some nice ones out there, no doubt."

Phog.net: Charlie, thanks for your time today. We'll check back with you soon.

Villanueva: "I look forward to that."

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