Pistons' Villanueva recalls early days of Deng, Noah
December 7, 2012, 5:47 pm
AUBURN HILLS, MICH.—Long before Luol Deng and Joakim Noah were NBA players, Pistons forward Charlie Villaneuva knew them as his prep-school roommate and a ballboy at a high school All-American camp, respectively.
Villanueva, a native of Queens, N.Y., attended New Jersey’s Blair Academy and teamed up with Deng in a frontcourt featuring two of the best prep prospects in the nation. The dynamic duo almost attended college together, at Big Ten power Indiana, but instead opted to separate, as Deng went to Duke for a season and Villanueva attended Connecticut for two years before declaring for the NBA Draft.
In fact, they faced off in the 2005 NCAA Final Four—Villaneuva’s UConn team, which also featured former Bulls guard Ben Gordon, beat Deng and Duke, en route to a national championship—in a matchup they fantasized about while in high school. Prior to Friday night’s Bulls-Pistons game at The Palace at Auburn Hills, Villanueva told CSNChicago.com that he wasn’t surprised by his former roommate’s professional success.
“[Deng] was a tremendous player, in high school and now. you could just tell how good he was and how good a feel for the game he had. Playing against him in the Final Four in college was an amazing feeling because we actually talked about that. Actually playing against him was amazing. But seeing play throughout his years in the league, he’s been getting better every year and I’m not surprised at all that he’s an All-Star, and I’d be surprised if he’s not an All-Star this year as well,” he said. “We used to go at each other every time. We got each other better and off the court, he was my roommate. Sharing stories, him being from London—and Sudan—and me being from New York, it was just two different worlds.”
Villanueva watched Noah, who played for the same AAU program, develop from afar. As has been well-chronicled, Noah’s growth spurt, which transformed him from a guard into a talented, if unorthodox big man, sparked his college recruiting interest and as time has gone on, Villanueva’s fellow New Yorker has evolved into one of the top centers in the game, something the Pistons forward believes strongly.
“Jo, I remember him when he was a little kid. It was amazing. He used to come to ABCD camp back in the day in Jersey and watch all of us play, the New York guys and then, one summer, I just saw him grow and what he’s become is amazing,” he recalled. “I’d say he’s one of the best centers in the league. He’s definitely a name you have to consider."
, Luol Deng
, Chicago Bulls
, Joakim Noah
, Detroit Pistons
, Charlie Villanueva