History repeats itself for Julian Champagnie.
Skeptics question it. Critics poking holes in his game.
In high school, the label was that I wasn’t good enough to play high-level college basketball. Now, after becoming one of the best players in the Big East, he hears the same thing about his NBA prospects.
“I’m pretty used to ‘Oh, he’s not ready,’ or ‘Oh, he’s not going to make it,'” Champagnie, the former St. John’s star from Brooklyn who has worked for 13 NBA teams, told The Post in a statement. telephone interview. “It’s the same in that sense of being watched.”
No matter what happens in Thursday’s 2022 NBA Draft — the talented 6-foot-8 Champagnie is still a projected mid-second-round pick, according to multiple scouts — even being in this position is kind of annoying.
He was an underrated two-star recruit at Bishop Loughlin High School. He was the other Champagnie there, playing in the shadow of twin brother Justin. He recalled hearing from townspeople at local tournaments that he was “garbage,” that he couldn’t play at the highest level of college basketball, and that he would never be as good as Justin.
“Those would be the things I put in my head [when I’m working out],” he said. “That’s the best fuel.”
One of the few major schools that wanted him was Pittsburgh. Jeff Capel, in fact, was behind both brothers. The plan throughout middle school was for them to go to high school and attend college together. After the twins visited Pittsburgh, they both made a verbal commitment to Capel. But Justin, more outgoing and sociable, no longer wanted to wait a year. He was ready then. Julian didn’t want to just follow his brother. He dropped out before an announcement was made.
“It took a lot of courage for Julian to say I’m going to do my thing and be my own man,” said Adam Berkowitz, one of his AAU coaches with New Heights.
That spring, St. John’s made a managerial change, replacing Chris Mullin with Mike Anderson, and Anderson hired Van Macon as one of his assistants. Macon, a native of Queens, was very familiar with Champagnie and saw something in him that others did not. Macon told Champagnie that he would play important minutes as a freshman and would be one of the staples of the program. More introverted than Justin, he liked the idea of staying close to home and playing at the school where his father, Ranford, won a national soccer championship.
After a strong freshman season, Champagnie exploded as a sophomore, leading the Big East in scoring. Suddenly the quiet, underrecruited kid was a star. That massive jump didn’t happen by accident. It was common for Champagnie to put out three a day.
“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever been around, legitimately,” said Chris Huey, St. John’s director of basketball operations. “Whether it was working out in the morning, coming to practice and practicing with the team, and coming back at night, he worked harder than anyone I’ve ever been with. That’s who he is he. He is not very social, he does not go out much. He loves the ball, he loves being in the gym and he wants to prove people wrong.”
Champagnie, 20, was the face of the program his last two years, its leading scorer and rebounder. He was the player the teams game was planned for, a player capable of scoring at all three levels as he set career highs last year in steals, assists and blocked shots. He’s a “maintenance kid,” Huey said, in addition to his professional-level work habits, loyalty and maturity.
However, questions remain as to whether he can defend wingbacks in the NBA and do enough beyond shooting to make a dent in the league. It is almost certain that he will have to prove himself in the G-League initially.
“I’m an underdog, and that’s fine,” said Champagnie, who hopes to be the first player from St. John selected since Sir’Dominic Pointer was selected in the second round (53rd overall) in 2015 by the Cavaliers. “I’m just looking for an opportunity. Give me a chance and I’ll make the most of it.”
Champagnie recalled a conversation he had with one of the coaches at the NBA combine, Edniesha Curry of the Trail Blazers. “‘Don’t let it consume you,'” Curry told him. ” ‘There are players who are drafted who will be out of the league in a year. Your story may be different. “
“’It doesn’t define who you are,’” Curry said.
Justin was not picked, but he did get a two-way deal with the Raptors and appeared in 36 games for them. There are countless stories of undrafted guys who made it to the league. The most recent was former Cristo Rey star Jose Alvarado, who went undrafted last year and impressed the Pelicans so much they signed him to a four-year, $6.5 million deal in March.
Still, those close to Champagnie expect him to be called by his name on Thursday night. Justin remembered how upset he was when he didn’t get drafted (his brother was there that night to comfort him) and it would mean a lot not only to Champagnie being drafted, but to his brother as well. He knows how far his twin has come.
“Before I start crying, I’m going to start crying,” Justin said. “He means the world to me, that boy. I love him to death. Just seeing his dream come true would make me feel like my dream came true.”