Charlie Villanueva never forgot where he came from. Though his basketball career has kept the Queens, N.Y. native away from home since he was a junior in high school, Villanueva kept close ties to the city he grew up in. While he’s a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, he’s hoping the place he grew up will never forget him.
Villanueva, in his third season out of UConn, has recently shifted to the sixth man role on Scott Skiles’ Bucks and has posted some of the best numbers of his career. Although the Bucks have amassed 12 wins thus far, they could battle for a playoff spot late in the year.
Although Villanueva only played ten minutes in the Bucks first visit to New York Friday night, the Bucks ran away with a 105-81 victory.
SLAM spoke with “Charlie V” during the pregame shoot around.
SLAM: Did you see a lot of games at The Garden growing up?
Charlie Villanueva: I’ve seen a lot of games here. My brother was a big Knick fan and I hated the Knicks (laughs). I was a big Indiana Pacers fan because of Reggie Miller and he was like the Knick-killer. He’s one of the reasons I wear no. 31 today. I always used to hate the Knicks.
SLAM: Did you play here before you got into The League?
CV: I played here in the Big East tournament and this whole arena is “the main stage.” It’s the world’s most famous arena. I always have a lot of family members at the games that I do play here. It means a lot to me.
SLAM: You left Newtown high school (Queens) to go to prep school in New Jersey? Do you feel like you missed out on winning a few city titles in this building?
CV: I think so. Newtown was good. I was there for two years, but I really wanted to get further away so I could concentrate on what I wanted to do with basketball and my schoolwork. I went to Blair Academy and it was a great situation for me.
SLAM: So, you were ultimately happy you went to Blair?
CV: Absolutely. Being away from home—at such an early age—I had to grow up fast. At 15-years-old, I was doing all kinds of ironing and other little things to take care of myself. I wasn’t used to doing it, but it was stuff I had to do.
SLAM: Do you feel like you’re beginning to find your place with the Bucks right now?
CV: I feel really good. It’s a good situation for me. With Coach Skiles system, he puts me in the position to be a playmaker and to score. That’s what I was looking for in a team and it’s something that I didn’t get in the past years. Coach Skiles put a lot of trust in me in order to make plays.
SLAM: Do you think coming off the bench has helped you or did it mess with your head a little bit?
CV: It did in the beginning of my career, but I still play starter minutes. Teams don’t always have the best five guys on the floor. I’m like the sixth guy, it depends, maybe if there is a point guard in foul trouble, someone will go in ahead of me, but generally I’m the sixth man. I kind of enjoy coming off the bench and I actually have the advantage of seeing what’s going on before I go into the game.
In starting, you have to be ready from the tip. You have to be ready right away and you don’t get the advantage of seeing what’s happening. I can see who’s hot, who’s not. I can see how the defense is moving and what plays they’re running against us. Stuff like that is what you get to see when you’re coming off the bench.
SLAM: What’s Coach Scott Skiles told you about your new role?
CV: He just tells me to go in and provide the team with energy and scoring. That’s the reason why I’m coming off the bench. I’ve been giving the team that boost.
SLAM: Do you feel like you see your defense improving?
CV: Absolutely, I truly feel like it’s improving a lot. Just having Coach Skiles work with me and teach me the way he wants things done—the way defensive schemes should be done—has helped me a lot. One thing about Coach is that he’s big on defense and if you don’t play defense you’re not going to play and I want to play.
SLAM: Is it that you’re doing something different out there or do you feel you’ve learned to defend better recently because of increased experience?
CV: It’s a combination of both. The experience and having the knowledge of how to play a certain player and the second thing is focus and concentration on being aware of what you have to do and who you have to guard.
SLAM: You’ve got about 50 kids here at the game tonight with have Alopecia Areata. Can you talk a bit about that?
CV: I’m about to go see them in a minute. My program is called “Charlie’s Angel’s” and I’ve been involved with kids that deal with the same condition (alopecia areata) I’m dealing with and allow them have a good time, let them see me more warm, sign autographs for them. I wanted to give them an excuse to have some fun and a good time. I never really had a role model—nobody I could look up to. I realize now that it happened to me so that I could help others.