National Post (Latest Edition)

Undrafted player perfect for Raptors

Champagnie’s ethic, desire impresses staff

- Mike Ganter mganter@postmedia.com

It’s a tested and proven formula that has served the Toronto Raptors well. Search out players with equal parts drive and chip on their shoulder, provide them an opportunit­y, and reap the rewards.

Fred Vanvleet, Mr. Bet on Yourself, is probably the most obvious example in the fold right now. Norm Powell had some of that in him, although he was at least drafted.

Chris Boucher has some of that in him. Jalen Harris — remember him — had it as well but that story did end.

And now in the starring role of the latest of these Raptors finds, we present to you Justin Champagnie.

Like Vanvleet, Champagnie was passed over in the draft and like Vanvleet, that only made him more determined.

Champagnie appears to have the attitude to follow a similar path and the inner confidence.

“One thing everyone knows about me, when I put my mind to something, I’m going to go to do it, no matter what anybody says,” Champagnie said Wednesday, following practice in advance of a couple of a pre-season games on the road, Thursday in Philadelph­ia and Saturday in Boston.

Since he was young, he wanted to make it to the NBA.

The Raptors offered him a two-way contract on draft night, something the team has never done for an undrafted player. It’s up to Champagnie to do the rest.

“I just kind of put it in my head ever since I was a kid, I’m going to do two years of school and make my dreams come true so that’s what I did,” Champagnie said.

Asked about the two-way contract he has which allows the team to move him up and down between the parent club and the G-league team, Champagnie began to smile.

“I just needed my foot in the door,” he said. “I’ll figure it out from there ... I’m always hungry for more, ready to work.”

At 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, Champagnie doesn’t exactly scream rebounding stud, but in this case appearance­s definitely are deceiving.

In his freshman season at the University of Pittsburgh, Champagnie averaged seven rebounds a game. In his sophomore year he boosted that number to 11.1 a night.

In his lone NBA pre-season game to date, Champagnie pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds and pumped in 17 points in a win over Philadelph­ia.

Champagnie has a very simple answer to why he’s so successful rebounding despite giving up plenty of length and bulk to most interior defenders he faces.

“Yeah, I just go get it,” he said. “I try to watch teams and see what they do but nobody wants to play hard. Everyone wants to be lackadaisi­cal and just get up and down the floor a little bit. If you put that energy out, no one is going to stop you.”

Rebounding alone isn’t going to keep Champagnie on an NBA floor. At his size and with his skill set he’s going to have to play on the perimeter and playing on the perimeter means knocking down some long-range shots.

It wasn’t necessaril­y a strength of his coming out of college, but in the two months he’s been working with the Raptors coaches it’s already showing vast improvemen­t. He made two of his four attempts in that exhibition with the 76ers on Monday night but that’s just the beginning.

“The whole coaching staff has been working on my shot,” Champagnie said. “They told me I got a good shot, my mechanics are good but I got to get it up in the air more. I was shooting it flat when I first got here. Just more arc. We have worked on that a lot so the results are coming in. I’m going to keep improving.”

When Champagnie isn’t working he’s busy staying connected with twin brother Julian — Justin is seven minutes older — who went to St. John’s when Julian chose Pitt.

“Three times a day we Facetime,” Champagnie said. “Every day. That’s my life, that’s my heart. I love him. I miss him. We talk every day.”

The two have not been separated much over the course of their lives until college, but even then the two have refused to let distance keep them apart.

“We don’t have to do everything together,” Justin says when the college separation is brought up. “We can do it separate. It’s like we went our separate ways but we really haven’t. He comes to me with every decision he has to make and I go to him. I love him.

“That is my guy.”

 ?? JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI / USA TODAY SPORTS ?? In his lone NBA pre-season game to date, Toronto’s Justin Champagnie pulled down a team-high 10 boards
and pumped in 17 points in a win over Philadelph­ia.
JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI / USA TODAY SPORTS In his lone NBA pre-season game to date, Toronto’s Justin Champagnie pulled down a team-high 10 boards and pumped in 17 points in a win over Philadelph­ia.

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