Charlie Villanueva wants to play in the NBA sooner rather than later.
"The NBA is my promised land, my dream," says Villanueva, a 6-foot-9, 215-pound high school forward from Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., who later today begins a two-day recruiting trip to Kansas University. "I'm so close to reaching the promised land, but when going to college is the worst-case scenario, that's not bad."
Villanueva has until Monday to enter his name in the 2003 NBA draft. He also has until May 14 -- the last day of the spring signing period -- to ink a binding letter of intent with a school.
Villanueva, a McDonald's All-American who averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks this season and is rivalshoops.com analyst Mike Sullivan's No. 3-ranked player nationally, is considering KU, Connecticut, UCLA, North Carolina and Illinois as well as the NBA.
Villanueva orally committed to the U of I -- but did not sign a letter of intent -- in November when KU coach Bill Self directed the Illini program.
"I've been talking to coach Self ever since there were rumors he was leaving Illinois," Villanueva told the Newark Star-Ledger. "We've been talking back and forth. I'm going to give him a shot and see how the school is. He's a good coach. He's been recruiting me a while. I really love the guy. He's a great coach."
Of course, Villanueva also loves the NBA. Villanueva, who grew up in Queens, N.Y. -- the hometown of KU assistant Norm Roberts -- has made no secret of the fact he wants to copy Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, DeShawn Stevenson and others and bypass college completely.
There's a catch, however. He has to be certain he'll be a first-round pick.
"He's been honest about it since day one," said Sullivan, who has seen Villanueva play approximately 30 times. "Right now it's very close. The thought is he could fall on either side (first or second round). If that is the case, he won't risk that. If somebody told him, 'Hey we will take you in the first round,' he will test the NBA."
Villanueva, who reportedly will be playing pick-up basketball with KU players Thursday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, has said he will follow the KU visit with unofficial trips to UConn and UNC.
"Charlie will definitely visit Connecticut unofficially," Long Island Panthers AAU coach Gary Charles told rivalshoops.com. "I am not sure about North Carolina. Roy Williams called and wants to talk to Charlie tonight. So we have to see if we can set this up."
Charles said it's "50-50" whether Villanueva will turn pro Monday.
"If he gets any indication he can go to the league, it's his first choice," the coach said.
Sullivan is high on Villanueva's potential.
"He's going to be an outstanding college basketball player. When he polishes his game, he will be an outstanding NBA player," Sullivan said. "He has good range on his jumper. With those long arms, he gets out in transition and can whack you for the dunk."
Villanueva's NBA position will be small forward. If he heads to college, he could begin at power forward, then wind up as a small forward if he stays more than a year.
"Charlie likes Bill Self a lot," Sullivan said. "He has chased him around the country, from Illinois to Kansas. Bill Self and his staff have done a good job reaching him on a personal level. Charlie is the one who called Kansas. Who knows what will happen, but he's definitely interested in Kansas."