Hoping for Health

Charlie V takes up boxing regimen in quest to attain peak condition

Charlie Villanueva has worked vigorously on his conditioning this offseason.
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Charlie Villanueva doesn’t hope for playing time in the 2012-13 season, his fourth with the Pistons. All he hopes is granted him is good health. He’ll take his chances with everything else.

“Hopefully, I’ve put the injury-plagued season behind me,” he said this week after a workout with Arnie Kander and members of the Pistons coaching staff. “That’s my main concern, just staying healthy. If I stay healthy, everything will take care of itself. Just having a year under coach Frank – I didn’t play much last year, but I know the system already, so I should fit in perfectly.”

Charlie V has had a series of nagging injuries that have managed to derail each of his first three Pistons seasons. Plantar fasciitis, back spasms, a broken nose, muscle pulls … you name it, there’s been something crop up that always quashed whatever momentum Villanueva had been able to establish. He was among the team’s top players for the first several weeks in each of his first two Pistons seasons, then after a strong start to training camp last year a mysterious ankle injury cropped up that knocked him out for the first half of the lockout-shortened season.

Given that history, Villanueva isn’t banking solely on hope for better health in the season ahead. He’s added another new wrinkle to a training regimen that last season was augmented by Arnie Kander devising a series of conditioning exercises for Villanueva to do while sweating in the sauna. By season’s end, Kander said Villanueva’s weight and body-fat index were the lowest they had been during his NBA career. Villanueva has kicked it up another notch this off-season by undertaking a boxing regimen.

A friend of Villanueva’s had worked out with Al Irish, an ex-boxer who runs a Royal Oak gym, and suggested he give it a try.

“It helps a lot. I love it,” Villanueva told me. “It’s a different type of workout, a different type of tired.”

Villanueva believes it will translate to basketball by improving his footwork, conditioning and strength, which could help him avoid the nagging types of injuries.

“It’s just non-stop for an hour,” he said. “You might get two minutes of a break out of that whole hour. The first time I checked it out, it was unbelievable. I was sweating like crazy in the first 10 minutes. An unbelievable workout. I fell in love with it right away.”

Villanueva hasn’t abandoned the other things he’s taken from Kander, either. He’s continued with the sauna workouts and Kander’s in-the-gym routine, but he plans to stick with his boxing workout even during the season.

“That’s going to become my workout throughout the year,” he said, playfully suggesting he might even get in the ring someday for real. “Give me a few more sessions, I might pursue that. Let me tell you something: I have a whole different level of respect for boxers. It’s unbelievable how well-conditioned those guys are. Just keeping your hands up and moving for three minutes is hard. Now you’re swinging and you’re getting hit, too? Unbelievable.”

Villanueva has spent most of his summer in Detroit with visits to his family in New York and to Toronto, where he first broke into the NBA. He’ll visit the Dominican Republic, where he has deep roots, soon to aid Francisco Garcia in his efforts to have a new basketball court built there. But he’ll be back in Auburn Hills for the bulk of the time remaining before training camp opens, when he will be eager to stake his claim to a spot in the rotation.

Villanueva logged outstanding practices with the Summer League team in Orlando. Austin Daye was just as good in five Summer League games later in July. Neither has a rotation spot assured and it’s possible one could be traded before camp opens. But the likeliest scenario is that they will be fighting for whatever minutes Lawrence Frank finds in the frontcourt rotation for a stretch four – a power forward who represents a legitimate 3-point shooting threat, an increasingly important role in today’s NBA.

“My body feels good,” he said. “I’m excited. We’ll see what happens.”