History repeats itself for Julian Champagne.
Doubters ask him questions. Critics look for holes in his game.
In high school, he was considered not good enough to play top college basketball. Now, having grown into one of the Big East’s top players, he hears the same thing about his NBA prospects.
“I’m pretty used to saying ‘Oh he’s not ready’ or ‘Oh he won’t make it'” – Champagne, former St. John’s star from Brooklyn who has trained for 13 NBA teams. told The Post in a telephone interview. “It’s the same in the sense that you’re being looked at.”
Whatever happens in the 2022 NBA draft on Thursday – the gifted 6ft 8in Champagne, according to several scouts, will still be selected in the middle of the second round – even being in this position is somewhat upsetting.
He was a flippant two-star recruit at Bishop Laughlin High School. He was another Champagne playing in the shadow of Justin’s twin brother. He recalled hearing from the townspeople at local tournaments that he was “rubbish,” that he couldn’t play at the highest level of college basketball and would never be as good as Justin.
“That would be what I put in my head [when I’m working out],” he said. “This is the best fuel.”
One of the few high schools that wanted him was Pittsburgh. In fact, Jeff Capel was after both brothers. In high school, the plan was for them to go to prep school and college together. After the twins visited Pittsburgh, they both verbally committed themselves to Capel. But Justin, more outgoing and outgoing, didn’t want to wait a year anymore. He was ready then. Julian didn’t want to just follow his brother. He signed off before the announcement was made.
“It took a lot of courage for Julian to say that I would mind my own business and be my own person,” said Adam Berkowitz, one of their AAU coaches at New Heights.
That spring, the St. Johns switched coaches, replacing Chris Mullin with Mike Anderson, and Anderson hired Van Macon as one of his assistants. Macon, a native of Queens, was intimately familiar with champagne and saw something in it that others didn’t. Macon told Champagne that he would star in his freshman year and be one of the building blocks of the program. More introverted than Justin, he liked the idea of staying closer to home and playing for the school where his father, Ranford, had won the national football championship.
After a solid freshman season, Champagne exploded as a sophomore, leading the Big East in scoring. Suddenly, the quiet half-educated child became a star. This massive leap did not happen by chance. It was common for Champagne to serve three a day.
“He’s the most hardworking person I’ve ever met, and rightfully so,” said Chris Huey, director of the St. Johns Basketball Club. “Whether he trained in the morning, came to practice and trained with the team, or came back at night, he worked harder than anyone I’ve ever been around. That’s who he is. Not too social, doesn’t come out a ton. He loves the ball, he loves going to the gym and he wants to prove people wrong.”
Champagne, 20, has been the face of the program for the past two years, its top scorer and rebounder. He was the target of team play, a player capable of scoring at all three levels who set career highs in steals, assists and blocks last year. He is “a child without maintenance,” Huey said, aside from his professional-level work habits, loyalty, and maturity.
However, questions remain as to whether he can defend the wings in the NBA and do enough beyond shooting to carve out his niche in the league. He will almost certainly have to prove himself in the G-League first.
“I’m an underdog and that’s okay,” said Champagny, who hopes to become the first St. John’s player to be drafted since Sir Dominic Poynter was taken in the second round (53rd overall) in 2015 year of the Cavaliers. “I’m just looking for an opportunity. Give me an opportunity and I’ll take it.”
Champagny recalled his conversation with one of the NBA team coaches, Ednish Curry of the Trail Blazers. Don’t let it consume you, Curry told him. “There are players who have been drafted and 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 selected, but he signed a two-way contract with the Raptors and played 36 games for them. There are countless stories about guys who didn’t get drafted in the league. The latest of these was former Christ the King star Jose Alvarado, who was not drafted last year and impressed the Pelicans so much that they signed him to a four-year, $6.5 million contract in March.
However, those close to Champagne are hoping that his name will be called on Thursday evening. Justin remembered how upset he was when he wasn’t called – his brother was there that night to comfort him – and it would mean so much not only to Champagne, but to his brother as well. He knows how far his twin has come.
“Before he starts crying, I’m going to start crying,” Justin said. “He means the whole world to me, this child. I love him to death. Just to see his dream come true would make me feel like my dream came true.”