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Villanueva skips draft, to join UConn Huskies

Charlie Villanueva expressed a desire to test the waters when he declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft.

But when the waters became too rocky, the 6-foot-10 former Newtown standout got out as part of a mass exodus of 27 players who withdrew their names from consideration just before last week’s deadline.

Now the Woodhaven native, considered one of the top high school players in the country, is preparing for his freshman year at the University of Connecticut.

“I’ve learned from this experience and I’ve been able to identify some of my weaknesses that I never noticed before,” Villanueva said in a story on CharlieVillanueva.org. “Now I have more time to develop myself as a stronger, more aggressive basketball player.”

The McDonald’s All-American, whose older brother Rob plays at Queens College, only strengthens a team already considered by some the preseason No. 1 team in the country. A frontcourt of Villanueva, Emeka Okafor and Marcus White is downright scary for the rest of the Big East.

Villanueva originally verbally committed to play at Illinois. But when head coach Bill Self and assistant Norm Roberts, a former standout at Springfield Gardens and Queens College, left the Illini to take the Kansas job, Villanueva changed his mind.

Villanueva left Newtown after his sophomore season to attend Blair Academy, a prep school in Blair, N.J., and committed to play at UConn over following Self to Kansas.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun’s ability to consistently send players to the NBA and the chance to play closer to home were the deciding factors for Villanueva.

“The bottom line: Like all kids, Charlie has the dream of playing in the NBA and he went out to try and see where he stands,” said Villanueva’s AAU coach Gary Charles of the Long Island Panthers. “UConn is a great situation. You look at coach Calhoun’s track record and it’s proven. It made the decision for Charlie a lot easier because of that.”

Villanueva will join former St. John’s Prep star Taliek Brown on a UConn team considered by some to be a favorite to win the national championship.

He joins an impressive recruiting class that includes Oak Hill Academy guard Marcus Williams, 6-foot-10 forward Josh Boone, who also picked UConn over Kansas, and Ryan Thompson, a 6-foot-7 junior college transfer from Australia.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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