Charlie Villanueva is a first-generation Hispanic American, son of Dominican immigrants, Roberto Villanueva and Dora Mejia, born August 24, 1984 and raised in Queens, NY. Villanueva an NBA player who signed a 5-year contract with the Detroit Pistons, back in July 2009, was drafted at the age of 20, 7th overall (lottery selection) in the 2005 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors. Charlie Villanueva, best known as “Charlie V.”, enjoyed a successful rookie season, averaging 13.0 points and 6.4 rebounds. He ranked second among all rookies in points and rebounds, and third in blocks and minutes. The 6’10” forward set Toronto franchise rookie single-game records for points (48) and rebounds (18). His rookie campaign was further highlighted by an appearance in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge at Houston All-Star Weekend, as well as NBA Rookie of the Month honors for the month of December 2005 and a spot on the All-NBA Rookie First Team.
He attended high school at Newtown in his hometown of Queens for his freshmen year, where he played with former NBA player Smush Parker, before transferring to Blair Academy in Blairstown, NJ during his sophomore year, where he played with fellow NBA player Luol Deng and earned McDonald’s High School All-American honors as a Senior, as well as New Jersey State Player of the Year. He entered the NBA Draft in 2003, but decided to withdraw his eligibility to attend college at the University of Connecticut.
In his first year at UConn, Villanueva was named to the Big East All-Rookie Team and was a member of the remarkable 2004 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions. This championship declared NCAA history as UConn became the only school to ever win both men’s and women’s tournament championship in the same season. In the summer of 2004, Villanueva was a member of the gold medal-winning United States 21-and-under team at the World Championships. Villanueva attended the University of Connecticut for two seasons before becoming an early entry candidate for the 2005 NBA Draft. Villanueva made the announcement during a press conference at Gampel Pavilion where he was joined by UConn Hall of Fame Head Coach Jim Calhoun. He was the Huskies leading scorer in his sophomore season, averaging 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds receiving team MVP and 2nd Team All-Big East honors. He played his best ball down the stretch in 2004-05, averaging 18.2 points and 9.7 rebounds over the final ten games of the season and averaging 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds during the NCAA Tournament. Villanueva led the team with 12 double doubles on the year. Villanueva is the eighth UConn player to declare early for the NBA Draft, joining Donyell Marshall (1994), Ray Allen (1996), Richard Hamilton (1999), Khalid El-Amin (2000), Caron Butler (2002), Ben Gordon (2004) and Emeka Okafor (2004).
Charlie V. wears number 31 in salute of his favorite player of all time: Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller (DOB: August 24, 1965) – Indiana Pacers (1987–2005)
Villanueva’s most notable professional highlight was recorded on the night of March 26, 2006, where he set a career high and Toronto Raptors franchise rookie record for points in a game with 48 versus the Milwaukee Bucks. The 48 points was the 4th highest performance ever by a NBA rookie. He joins an elite class of athletes: Allen Iverson (50 pts – 1997), Michael Jordan (49 pts – 1985), & Kelly Tripucka (49pts – 1992). Villanueva was voted 2nd in the running for the 2005-06 Rookie of the Year award, finishing behind Chris Paul.
“A lot of people questioned that pick at No. 7, and he’s been successful. The only question people had about Charlie was how hard he played, he’s proven that. I think that kid has unbelievable talent.”
Larry Brown – Hall of Fame Coach
“He has versatility as a passer, as a handler, as a shooter, and as a post-up player … I think he’s just scratched the surface of what he’s able to do.”
Terry Stotts – NBA Coach
In 2009, he switched sports nationality to the Dominican Republic. Under FIBA rules, he asked USA Basketball to release him in order to switch his sports citizenship. He played for the Dominican Republic national basketball team in the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship, where he led the team in points averaging 17.1 and added 7.4 rebounds per game. Villanueva also participated in 2010 Centro Basket Championship, where he again led the team in points, averaging 20.6.
A proponent of social networking and communicating with his fans, Charlie was one of the first athletes to embrace Twitter, which drew recognizable interest by the NBA league. His honesty and personality have made him a must follow on this platform.
Getting to know Charlie
BELIEVE IN Faith
I t began with a flurry of college recruiters ready to court the 6-foot-11, 240-pound versatile forward, which spent three academic years at Blair Academy (Blairstown, N.J.) after starting his high school career at Newtown High School (Queens, N.Y.). A mission that first started with a verbal commitment to Illinois. But the departure of Illini head coach Bill Self left Villanueva questioning his choice and looking toward an NBA future, which till this day Villanueva has said it’s been one of his toughest decision (backing out of his Illinois commitment).
Villanueva seriously consider the NBA (2003) at one point and went through the entire NBA draft process. He waited till the actual deadline day to realize college was the obvious choice. He reopened the recruiting process and narrowed his choice to two – Coach Self’s new home, Kansas, and the heavy loaded UConn Huskies. When he was face with yet another tough decision, it was the Huskies who gladly welcomed the consensus national top-five high school recruit.
A wise decision it was for Villanueva to play with the likes of Ben Gordon & Emeka Okafor under legendary Hall of Fame Coach Jim Calhoun. One NCAA National Championship (2004) later, Villanueva continued his second year at the University of Connecticut, where he lead his team to a 1st Place Big East Conference Title. In addition, he was honored the Team MVP (scoring leader) and lead the Big East Conference in rebounding. After two great seasons in Huskies land, Villanueva made the ultimate decision and entered his name in the 2005 NBA Draft.
Needless to say… “With the 7th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors select Charlie Villanueva” said David Stern.
The rest will be proven….
Villanueva is an athletic, versatile big man who can play multiple positions and fundamentally do it all very good. He is a very fluid runner on the court and an excellent leaper. Can offensively score from practically anywhere (inside & outside). Has a very good shooting stroke, even from behind the three-point arc. Showed acumen for passing. He is also a great ball handler for his height.
Dime Magazine: December 2002 (New York, NY) —
F or basketball phenomenon Charlie Villanueva, destiny isn’t a matter of chance, but a matter of choice. The lure of the NBA grew stronger and more tempting each day during his last days at school. The 6’10” wing/forward and possibly the most highly touted high-school senior not named Lebron James, was faced with a decision that many might wish for, yet few his age would be able to handle. His mind flip-flops, the whispers in his ear grew louder and louder with each passing day as he tried hard not to buy into the hype, but instead remains grounded … dedicated … HUNGRY.
At age 12, Charlie had only been playing basketball for two years. He was young and gifted and slightly afraid. Destiny had made him 5’5″ in the fifth grade, taking him away from baseball and landing him on the playgrounds of Queens. His growing process was a rapid one, growing an additional 7″ over the Summer of 2000. Today, at 6’10”, 230 pounds with the size of a forward and skills of a guard, Villanueva definitely fits the freak mold. He can operate in the post. He has 3-point range. He sees the floor well. He can bring the ball up and beat his defender off the dribble. He rebounds. He explodes to the basketball. In short, there isn’t anything he can’t do with the ball in his hands. At least not when he wants to. It’s a beautiful package put all together, yet its not a perfect one. The biggest knock on Charlie is his occasional lack of motivation.
“I have a bad habit of playing to the level of the competition I’m playing against,” Charlie said. “I’m trying to get out of that. I’ve got to go out there with intensity, go out there and kill.”
He continues to say, “I feel like this past summer (2002) was my coming out party. I knew what I could do, what I was capable of, but I wanted everyone else to see it.” And see it they did. Charlie’s summer was full of tournament championships and awards and a strong showing at the Adidas ABCD camp. That’s why the college life is awaiting with baited breathe to see what he will do, and why a half dozen NBA scouts descended on move while playing for the Long Island Panthers.
Long Island Panthers coach Gary Charles coached another long lanky, bald-headed forward with awe-inspiring athleticism – Lamar Odom. Charlie hears the comparisons to Odom often. Both are from Queens, both make what they do look effortless. “I hesitate to compare players because expectations can get out of control, but he’s definitely reminiscent of Lamar,” Charles says. “His versatile is the thing. He can do so many different things just like Lamar could. He can rebound, shoot the three, post up, throw passes, get assists.” Villanueva hope fate will meet destiny and he’ll be a NBA dominant player.
In skills and style, Villanueva is remarkably similar to Odom, right down his shiny pate. And just as Odom had Charles to watch over him, Villanueva also has a man in his life named Nate Blue, who’s not exactly a coach and not quite a family member, but who is active in the New York City basketball scene and has known Villanueva since he was 10.
Nate Blue has knocked down many doors for Charlie and he is one of the reasons why Charlie is who he is today. In addition to Nate, it also helped that Charlie had older brothers who have been in the game of basketball at an early age to show him the way. Especially, brother Rob Carlos (3 years older), who kept Charlie active playing with older players.
“I use to put Charlie to work in the street courts of Queens & Brooklyn,” Rob said. “If I couldn’t put him down in my team, I would have to take him back home, and that was a far trip, so he needed to learn the game quick in order to play with the bigger boys. And he sure did.”
With Villanueva’s size, agility and remarkable ball-handling skills at such height, he is a virtual lock to fulfill his dreams, maybe sooner than expected.
Credit: Written by Ilyana Lanai, Re-edited by Robert E. Villanueva | © Dime Magazine, Issue No.5
Then & Now by Charlie Villanueva
T he Charlie I am today would have never been defined without the overcoming challenges I dealt with during my early childhood years. I grew up as any regular kid would in the wild streets of Queens, New York City – having to experience the daily scene of an environment filled with crime, drugs, and gang violence. The “ghetto” or the “hood” is what society would best describe the street culture I grew up with, yet the streets only played a small role in my self-reliance growth. Though my mom struggled as a single unemployed parent, raising three kids in a 1-bedroom household, on government welfare, she managed to do a pretty good job in keeping us out of trouble. My dad wasn’t a complete disappearance. In spite of my parent’s separation, my dad still played a major role in my life. What I remember most about growing up with a dad that was in and out of the house, ever since he found the word of God he became more peaceful and stable with himself. He would constantly preach to us about a better, more positive way of life; about focusing on the right things versus wrong. We would be forced to have to go to Sunday school on a weekly basis, which I didn’t enjoy at first, but I’m sure thankful for it now as it paid off for me in a big way. It taught me all things are possible with the faith of God. There were a lot more harmful influences in the streets in those days, but the fine job by my mom, dad, and the powers above the sky kept me on a straight path. Despite having to deal with the “street negativity”, my childhood consist of a much greater challenge that came to me so unexpected.
At the age of 10, I suffered from an autoimmune skin condition called alopecia areata, which during that time I had no idea what it was. It started out with a small patch of hair lost on the back of my head. I literally woke up one morning and a patch of hair was gone. The patch was like the size of a 25-cent coin. I told my mom right away, she was clueless but more worried about the harm it may cause. When we went to visit my local doctor, I felt like I was improperly diagnosed. I was told the condition was related to stress and in a short period of time the hair will grow back after I take these prescribed antibiotics. I mean think about it… what child is stressing that much, at the young age of 10, that would result to hair lost. Your only worries at that age should be homework and dealing with house chores.
About 3-months later, the patch was still there. My mom then decided to take me to a dermatologist, which recommended getting a shot of cortisone in my head, which did absolutely nothing. Although, as time when on, the skin condition would become more erratic. It started to spread all around my head, different sort of patches and at one point my hair began to grow back a little bit. My hair growth cycle was really confusing. It was like if my hair particles were at war with each other. To make a long story short, I continued to see all sorts of different doctors, tried all sorts of different remedies, yet still no answers, still no clue to the cause. It wasn’t until the age of 12, during one summer period, where absolutely EVERYTHING fell off. The skin disease spread all throughout my body and I was officially diagnosed with alopecia universalis, which results in rapid loss of all hair, including eyebrows, eyelashes, and everywhere else on my body. The only good information I was told about the condition is that it was not otherwise life-threatening or harmful, nor contagious. I also found out that over 5-million Americans were also affected by this skin disease. It is currently believed to be an autoimmune disorder and there is no standard treatment for alopecia universalis. I was so broken when this first happened to me. It was heart breaking for me, at this age, to receive such news. At the time, I didn’t even know how to begin to bear. I was scared, embarrassed, confused, upset, and disappointed all at once.
At that point in my life, it was bad enough dealing with the poor living conditions of the ghetto alone, but now I had this skin thing to add-on. It was some tough times. The biggest thing I feared was not what the world would think of me, but what my fellow students at my school would say. The NYC public school systems can be pretty hostile and I was so afraid to face them. When that first day of school hit, back on September 1997, I remember it so clearly. I tried to do everything I could to try to hide my new look, but it turned out unfortunate. The other kids noticed my alopecia right away. For the majority of the school year, I constantly wore hood sweaters, fitting sport caps, just about anything I could find to cover my head and eyebrows, which stood out the most when you would look at me. It was difficult to be accepted amongst my peers. I got in trouble many times because in public school they would make you take your hat off in class, no exceptions. I would always put up a fight about taking my hat off and would be sent to the principal’s office literally on a weekly basis. It was awful. The faculty members in my school would cut me no break. My mom would have to come to school like every other month just to talk to my teachers about being a bit more compassionate with me. The worst thing about the whole thing was the other kids. You don’t even know how hurtful kids can be at that age; even my own friends would tease me. I heard it all from “egg head” to “bald eagle” even “cone head”. I also use to get compared to that albino boy from the hit 1995 movie “Powder”, which was actually a good movie. The film itself questions the limits of the human mind and body while also displaying their capacity for cruelty. The whole phenomenon was a shame. Just imagine a daily occurrence of jokes and teasing all throughout my school years and in my own neighborhood, just because I lost my hair. Does that make sense to you? I didn’t understand it myself. I was the same Charlie, yet I was treated so differently because of hair loss. It showed me real quick people’s true colors and how corrupted society’s image of one another is so attentively criticized. It actually came to the point for me where I didn’t even want to step out of my house. I would make-believe I was sick to avoid going to school. It not only affected my education, but my self-assurance was destroyed.
As hard of a walk it was for me as an adolescent, the solution came to me as a mean of expressing myself via a recreational outlet. This passage way for me was the game of basketball. You see, all the hardness that I’ve developed over time was still bulked up inside of me. And as a kid, basketball allowed me to express myself in a way that created value and purpose for me. It became my exercise of the body and mind, and the development of my character and leadership on and off the court. What I appreciated the most was that we were all the same on the basketball court and the only way to distinguished one another was through our talent abilities and not our looks. The game helped me understand what fairness and equality was all about. I was treated just as one of the guys on the court. I found something I was finally accepted at for who I was, not how I looked. And the fact that I was God gifted, naturally good at basketball from the jump, it gave me the opportunity to build my confidence more than anything.
The key to self-confidence is at the root of self-fulfilling prophecies. A positive self-fulfilling prophecy is something as simple as to believe. If you want to become a great basketball player or just great at anything, having confidence in your abilities is a must. Conducting positive meditation sessions about your playing abilities helps a great deal with confidence in addition to constant and intense practice. You need to believe in yourself to exude the will and determination not to be denied in your attempt to achieve. What separates you from the pack of being great is your mental approach, fearlessness, and self-belief. It doesn’t really matter who you are or what you’ve gone through in life, an aggressive, attacking attitude puts fear in the opposition and creates openings to score. I have this saying I stick by… “I have alopecia, alopecia doesn’t have me”. I’m the one in control of my self-being.
I never lost hope in a better living, a better way. My childhood experiences have now led me to provide other youths with motivation and assist them in making positive changes within their lives, communities, and emphasizing the beliefs in their goals. I have grown to have a great care for children all across America that lose hope due to destruction caused by bullying . Through my foundation, programs are implemented to address the ongoing problem of bullying within our children’s society in hope the unhealthy social interactions move towards more positive interactions that will build better relationships. I created The Charlie Villanueva Foundation with a mission to support, through education, motivation, and recreational guidance, projects that enhance awareness about bullying; to provide assessment and intervention tools – for a childhood should subsist with hope and belief. Being able to bring a smile to a child’s face and show them that those treated differently, for whatever reason can succeed and overcome; that experience brings joy to my life. I’m living proof of it.
When life ever gets to the point where you no longer look forward for tomorrow, then life has reached the point of no belief. Basketball was my escape, and it has given me a sense of belonging. Now the taunts of my early childhood drama have turned into admiring cheers as I have found success in becoming a professional NBA athlete.