Villanueva snubs draft for UConn

With status up in air, standout picks college

McDonald’s All-American Charlie Villanueva has put his NBA dreams on hold for at least a year.

Villanueva, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound forward from Brooklyn, N.Y., who committed to Connecticut instead of Kansas University, withdrew Thursday from the 2003 NBA draft after he wasn’t assured first-round status.

So, it’s on to Storrs, Conn., for Villanueva, who has made no secret of his desire to play in the NBA as soon as possible.

“There were several teams that said if he was still around in the first round they might take him,” Villanueva’s AAU coach, Gary Charles, told Mike Sullivan of “But there wasn’t anything sure. So he took his name out.”

Villanueva — he averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds last season for Blair Academy in New Jersey — originally committed to Bill Self’s Illinois team last November, but dropped his commitment when Self left for Kansas. He made a campus visit to KU and was torn between playing for Self or UConn coach Jim Calhoun.

Josh Boone, another forward who chose the Huskies over the Jayhawks, is expected to battle Villanueva for a starting spot at UConn, ESPN’s preseason No. 1-ranked team. Junior Emeka Okafor is UConn’s other starting forward.

“Connecticut would have had a chance to win the national championship even if Charlie didn’t go there,” Charles said.

“So there isn’t any preconceived notion that Charlie is the main guy on the team. He can just go in, fit in and play.”

    Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self, left, shakes hands with KU guard Keith Langford. Self's players played a pick-up game at his camp Wednesday.

  • Dandy duos: Former Jayhawks Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison are projected to be first-round picks in next Thursday’s NBA draft. If there are no surprises, they will be the first KU teammates to be tapped in Round One since the 1998 draft when Raef LaFrentz went third overall to Denver and Paul Pierce went 10th to Boston.
  • Festival loaded: Several high school seniors-to-be who have KU on their recruiting lists will compete at USA Basketball’s Men’s Youth Development Festival June 25-29 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Kalen Grimes, a 6-8 power forward from St. Louis, is considering Kansas, Illinois and Missouri. He will play for the North team with Malik Hairston, a 6-5 guard/forward from Detroit who is considering KU, Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State, Indiana, Missouri, Purdue and Arizona.

Jason Horton, a 6-1 guard from Cedar Hill, Texas, who is considering KU, Missouri, Florida, Arizona State and Arkansas, will play for the South with Marcus Monk, 6-6 from Lepanto, Ark., who likes KU, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Boston College and others.

Josh Heytvelt, a 6-9 forward from Clarkston, Wash., who has a Final Four of KU, Arizona, Gonzaga and Oregon, will play for the West with AAU teammate Marvin Williams, 6-9 of Bremerton, Wash., who has a final three of North Carolina, Washington and Arizona.

“Kansas, Duke and Oregon have been eliminated from (Williams’s) list,” Bremerton High coach Casey Lindberg told Shay Wildeboor of “I think it came to a point where he realized that he was not going to end up playing for those schools, so I think he thought it would be best if he eliminated them from his list.”

  • Price update: A.J. Price, a 6-1 guard from Amityville, N.Y., has a list of Kansas, Connecticut, Syracuse, St. John’s and Georgia Tech. “I really like Kansas because of its tradition, the exposure the school receives and style of play,” Price told Wildeboor.
  • Schedule talk: Kansas won’t be releasing its basketball slate anytime soon, as the Jayhawks look for a major home nonconference game to be played on ESPN. Cincinnati has been rumored as a home-and-home to begin as early as next season.

Also, KU likely will play in the season-opening Guardians Classic if the federal courts overturn an NCAA rule that limits teams to two appearances in exempt events every four years. KU would play two home games in the eight-team Classic with semifinals and finals in Kansas City.

  • Camp ends: The first week of KU coach Self’s camp for youths concluded with shooting contests and campers’ games Thursday. His final week of camp will run Sunday through Thursday.