History repeats itself for Julian Champagnie.
Skeptics question him. Critics are tearing holes in his game.
In high school, the etiquette was that he wasn’t good enough to play college basketball. Now, after transforming into one of the best players in the Big East, he’s hearing the same about his NBA prospects.
“I’m pretty used to ‘Oh, he’s not ready’ or ‘Oh, he won’t make it'” Champagnie, the former St. John’s star from Brooklyn who worked for 13 NBA teams, told the Post in a phone interview. “It’s the same in that sense of being looked over.”
No matter what happens in Thursday’s 2022 NBA draft — the talented 6-foot-8 Champagnie remains a projected pick midway through the second round, according to multiple scouts — even being in that position is somewhat upset.
He was an under-regarded two-star recruit at Bishop Loughlin High School. He was the other Champagnie there, playing in the shadow of twin brother Justin. He remembers hearing people in town at local tournaments say he was “trash,” that he couldn’t play at the highest level of college basketball, and that he would never be as good as he was. Justin.
“That would be the stuff that I would put in my head [when I’m working out],” he said. “It’s the best fuel.”
One of the few high schools that wanted it was Pittsburgh. Jeff Capel, in fact, was after the two brothers. The plan throughout high school was for them to go to prep school and attend college together. After the twins visited Pittsburgh, they both made a verbal commitment to Capel. But Justin, more outgoing and social, didn’t want to wait another year. He was then ready. Julian didn’t just want to follow his brother. He pulled out before an announcement was made.
“It took a lot of courage for Julian to say I’m going to do my own thing and be my own man,” said Adam Berkowitz, one of their AAU coaches with New Heights.
That spring, St. John’s changed coaches, replacing Chris Mullin with Mike Anderson, and Anderson hired Van Macon as one of his assistants. Macon, originally from Queens, knew Champagnie very well and saw something in him that others did not. Macon told Champagnie he would play major minutes as a rookie and be one of the building blocks of the program. More introverted than Justin, he liked the idea of staying close to home and playing for the school where his father, Ranford, won a national football championship.
After a strong freshman season, Champagnie exploded into sophomore, leading the Big East in scoring. Suddenly, the quiet, under-recruited kid was a star. This massive leap did not happen by accident. It was common for Champagnie to put three days a day.
“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever been around, legitimately,” said St. John’s basketball operations manager Chris Huey. “Whether it’s training in the morning, coming to practice and training with the team, and coming back in the evening, he’s worked harder than anyone I’ve ever rubbed shoulders with. “That’s who he is. Not too social, doesn’t go out a ton. He loves the ball, he loves being in the gym and he wants to prove people wrong.
Champagnie, 20, has been the face of the program for the past two years, its top scorer and rebounder. He was the teams slated player for the game, a player capable of scoring at all three levels who had career highs last year in steals, assists and blocked shots. He’s a “no-maintenance kid,” Huey said, in addition to his pro-level work habits, loyalty and maturity.
Whether he can defend the NBA wings and do enough beyond shooting to carve out a place in the league, however, remains to be seen. He will almost certainly have to prove himself in the G-League first.
“I’m an underdog, and that’s okay,” said Champagnie, who hopes to be the first St. John’s player drafted 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 an opportunity and I will make the most of it.
Champagnie recalled a conversation he had with one of the NBA combine coaches, Edniesha Curry of the Trail Blazers. “‘Don’t let it consume you,'” Curry told him. ” ‘There are players who are drafted and who will be eliminated from the league in a year. Your story may be different. “
“‘That doesn’t define who you are,'” Curry said.
Justin was not chosen, but landed a two-way contract with the Raptors and played 36 games with them. There are countless stories of undrafted guys making it in the league. The most recent was former Christ the King star Jose Alvarado, who was undrafted last year and impressed the Pelicans so much they signed him to a $6.5million deal. over four years in March.
However, the relatives of Champagnie hope that he will be called Thursday evening. Justin remembered how upset he was that he wasn’t drafted — his brother was there that night to comfort him — and it would mean so much not just to Champagnie to be picked, but to his brother as well. He knows how far his twin has come.
“Before he starts crying, I’m gonna start crying,” Justin said. “He means the world to me, this kid. I love her to death. Just seeing his dream come true would make me feel like my dream has come true.