History is repeating itself for Julian Champagnie.
Doubters are questioning him. Critics poking holes in his game.
In high school, the label was that he wasn’t good enough to play high-major college basketball. Now, after turning himself into one of the best players in the Big East, he’s hearing the same stuff about his NBA prospects.
“I’m pretty used to the, ‘Oh, he’s not ready,’ or, ‘Oh, he won’t make it,’ ” Champagnie, the former St. John’s star from Brooklyn who has worked out 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 gifted 6-foot-8 Champagnie remains a projected mid-second-round pick, according to multiple scouts — to even be in this position is somewhat of an upset.
He was a lightly regarded two-star recruit at Bishop Loughlin High School. He was the other Champagnie there, playing in twin brother Justin’s shadow. He recalled hearing from people in the city at local tournaments that he was “trash,” that he couldn’t play at the highest level of college basketball and would never be as good as Justin.
“That would be the stuff I put in my head [when I’m working out],” he said. “That’s the best fuel.”
One of the few high-major schools that wanted him was Pittsburgh. Jeff Capel, in fact, was after both 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 verbally committed to Capel. But Justin, more outgoing and social, no longer wanted to wait a year. He was ready then. Julian didn’t want to just follow his brother. He decommitted 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 made a coaching change, replacing Chris Mullin with Mike Anderson, and Anderson hired Van Macon as one of his assistants. Macon, a Queens native, was very familiar with Champagnie, and saw something in him that others didn’t. Macon told Champagnie he would play major minutes as a freshman and be one of the program’s building blocks. More of an introvert than Justin, he liked the idea of staying close to home and playing for the school where his father, Ranford, won a national championship in soccer.
After a solid freshman season, Champagnie exploded as a sophomore, leading the Big East in scoring. All of a sudden, the quiet under-recruited kid was a star. That massive leap didn’t happen by accident. It was common for Champagnie to put in three-a-days.
“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever been around, legitimately,” said Chris Huey, St. John’s director of basketball operations. “Whether he was working out in the morning, coming to practice and practicing with the team, and coming back at night, he worked more than anyone I’ve ever been around. That’s who he is. Not overly social, doesn’t go out a ton. He loves 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, his leading scorer and rebounder. He was the player teams game-planned for, a player able to score at all three levels who posted career-highs this past year in steals, assists and blocked shots. He’s a “no maintenance kid,” Huey said, on top of his pro-level work habits, loyalty and maturity.
There, however, remain questions whether he can defend wings in the NBA and do enough beyond shooting to carve out a niche for himself in the league. He almost certainly will have to prove himself in the G-League initially.
“I’m an underdog, and that’s OK,” said Champagnie, who is hoping to be the first St. John’s player drafted since Sir’Dominic Pointer was taken in the second round (53rd overall) in 2015 by the Cavaliers. “I’m just looking for an opportunity. Give me an opportunity 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 get 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 wasn’t picked, but landed a two-way contract with the Raptors and appeared in 36 games for them. There are countless stories of undrafted guys making it in the league. The most recent was former Christ the King star Jose Alvarado going undrafted last year and impressing the Pelicans so much they signed him to a four-year, $6.5 million deal in March.
Still, those close to Champagnie hope he gets his name called 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 so much not just to Champagnie to get picked, but to his brother, too. He knows how far his twin has come.
“Before he starts crying, I’m going to start crying,” Justin said. “He means the world to me, that kid. I love him to death. Just to see his dream come true would make me feel like my dream came true.”