St. John’s Julian Champagnie earning the star treatment with breakout season

It didn’t happen in high school. It didn’t happen on the AAU circuit. It didn’t happen his freshman year of college.

Julian Champagnie, in fact, can’t remember ever being an offense’s focal point, being his team’s go-to guy, the player everyone looks to in crunch time.

This year is a first.

“It’s a different look, it’s a different dynamic,” St. John’s standout sophomore forward said in a phone interview in advance of Tuesday’s critical contest against Xavier at Carnesecca Arena. “It’s still the same Julian, but I try to produce at a higher level.”

Champagnie, the well-rounded 6-foot-8 Brooklyn native out of Bishop Loughlin, has exploded after a strong freshman season. He leads the Big East in scoring at 19.7 points per game. He’s sixth in the league — and first on St. John’s (13-8, 7-7) — in rebounding (7.4). He’s seventh in the conference in 3-point shooting (42.5 percent), seventh in blocked shots (1.3) and second in free-throw shooting (86.4 percent). At this point, it would be a surprise if he’s not a first team all-league selection.

“You’re seeing a guy develop right before your eyes,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. “He spends a lot of time in the gym. He really works at it. He’ll grab our coaches, our managers, [to work extra with him].”

julian champagnie has become the focal point of st johns offense
Julian Champagnie has become the focal point of the St. John’s offense.
Robert Sabo

He’s been the Johnnies’ rock, the one constant in an up-and-down season that saw a slow start in league play followed by a furious streak to get them into the NCAA Tournament mix. Despite being at the top of the scouting report — Champagnie is the player opposing coaches set a game plan for — he has reached double figures in scoring in all 19 games he’s appeared in.

After averaging 27 points in his first two games of the season against Boston College and BYU, it became obvious Champagnie was the key to this team, that he had worked hard in the offseason. He was doing things he had never done before — sinking jump shots on the move, creating offense for himself and others. The departure of LJ Figueroa, last year’s leading scorer, created a scoring void Champagnie has ably filled.

It wasn’t an easy transition for a player who has never been in that role before. Champagnie will get frustrated at times at the extra defensive attention he draws. He’s still adjusting, understanding when he has to look for his offense and how best to make double-teams pay.

“I’m not used to people keying on me, and saying, ‘We can’t [let him] score,’” Champagnie said.

He’s happiest with the strides he has made as a leader in his sophomore year, something Anderson has emphasized. He’s quiet by nature, so he won’t yell at teammates or bark out instructions, but lately he’s done more to make his voice heard. Champagnie prefers to lead by example, with his work ethic, determination and desire. He’s become the face of the program, the player who speaks to the media the most.

He echoes Anderson, rarely talking about himself, always praising his teammates. The reason, he said, for St. John’s improved play is everyone has contributed, declining to take credit for the program’s recent 180.

“It’s not like it’s a one-man team,” he said.

Even in the rare games Champagnie’s shot isn’t falling, he has found a way to make an impact by rebounding, defending and sharing the ball. He came up big late in key wins over UConn and No. 10 Villanova by making the simple play, drawing a foul or getting to the rim rather than settling for a jump shot. Poor games or bad stretches haven’t stayed with him.

“I’m happy with my mental development,” Champagnie said.

Happy, but not content. Champagnie said his goal at the season’s outset was to be Big East Player of the Year. He wants to play in the NCAA Tournament next month. When asked about his star’s season, Anderson didn’t want to think about it in the past tense.

“We’re not done yet,” he said.

New York Post

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