AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons are trying to withstand injuries to two of its key players, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton, while hovering around .500. Their early season plight is also magnified by the fact this team is full of new faces.
After the turmoil in the 2008-09 regular season with first-year coach Michael Curry, Pistons president Joe Dumars basically dismantled the team and went in a completely new direction.
He started with the firing of Curry, then proceeded to finish the job he started last season when he traded ever popular guard Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. Of course all know that experiment was a complete failure and the resulting 39-43 record fueled more off-season moves.
John Kuester has replaced Curry and rookies Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko and DaJuan Summers were drafted. Then two players, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, were signed as free agents along with athletic big man Chris Wilcox. The surprise move was the return of Ben Wallace to The Palace.
One of those new faces that Dumars and new coach Kuester is expecting to infuse the team with scoring and leadership is Villanueva.
The 6-foot-11, 232 pound forward started the season slowly, but over the last three games he has score 28 points versus Orlando, 16 against Toronto and 16 against Philadelphia.
“It’s going to take some time to jell as a team, especially with the injuries,” Villanueva said. “We have a good group of guys here who will strongly compete in every game. I’m not going to say we are going to win a championship, but this team has some depth. I think by the end of the season we will surprise some people.”
Villanueva had a breakout year last season in Milwaukee, averaging career highs in points (16.2), rebounds (6.7), assists (1.8), three-point field goal percentage (.345) and free throw percentage (.838).
I came to Detroit because of J.D. (Dumars),” he explained. “I like the way he does things. He’s a very respectable person, a straightforward guy. Plus he has led this franchise to six Eastern Finals. Around this league people respect that.I’m sure after a while folks started to take winning for granted, and we are trying to get back to that level of play.”
Drafted on the first round (7th overall) by Toronto in the 2005 NBA Draft following his sophomore year at Connecticut, Villanueva joins a Pistons team that now has three players from the university. Gordon and Hamilton are the others. He played on the Huskies’ second national championship team in 2004 with Gordon.
“Definitely having Rip here, then Ben signed made it easy to want to be a part of this team’s rebuilding effort,” he said. “Plus Detroit has some diehard fans who appreciate basketball.”
With Tayshaun and Hamilton injured, Villanueva knows that he has to step his game up and lately he’s been doing just that.
“He is a solid scorer and we need his O (offense),” Will Bynum said. “There are not too many big men that can guard him. He can stretch the defense and open up the lanes for Rodney (Stuckey) and me.”
Concurred Daye: “He a unique player. He’s a four who can step out and shoot the three. I watch and listen and I’m learning how to play that spot watching Charlie.”
Villanueva said his strength as a player is his versatility. He noted that he can run the floor, handle the ball decently for a big man, shoot the three and post up. However, he did acknowledge that “defense will be the key” that will get this team over the top.
Villanueva is a first-generation American Latino (his parents are from the Dominican) and he speaks Spanish fluently.
He suffers from alopecia areata, an autoimmune skin disease that results in hair loss. The disease is relatively common and affects four million Americans and is not life threatening.
Besides being a spokesperson for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, his Charlie Villanueva Foundation (CVF) is dedicated to eliminating bullying by supporting organizations that maintain programs that provide guidance in creating non-violent solutions to challenges and problems associated with bullying.
The Pistons surely need Villanueva to compete against opposing forwards. He saw himself as a complementary player with all the scorers this team has, but with all the injuries he will have to shoulder a larger chunk of the scoring load over the next few weeks.
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