St. John’s guard Julian Champagnie, a Brooklyn native who is returning for his junior year after flirting with entering the NBA draft, takes a shot at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby ahead of the season’s tip-off next month.
Q: Does this St. John’s team reflect New York City?
A: I definitely think so. I think the grit, the grind, the toughness, the pace we play. And our attitudes definitely resemble New York City. We’re tough. In the locker room, we play-fight all the time. We don’t back down from nothing. Even in practice, you see the level of competition that goes on, teammate to teammate. We have every borough packed into one team, and then you kind of add other kids from other places who bring their twist and characteristics to the team. It’s a lot mixed in one, and I feel like New York is a lot mixed in one. So it kind of resembles the city perfectly.
Q: When you signed, you wanted to help put St. John’s back on the map. Is St. John’s back on the map?
A: I feel like we’ve taken great strides these past two years. There’s a ways to go, that we have more that we could accomplish, and we’re hoping that this year could be that year. We’re getting there, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting there.
Q: What is the highest goal you want to accomplish?
A: Everything we could win we want to win. We want to win as much as we can. So all of those games that people say we can’t win and that we can’t get to, we want to get to those games and then win those games, and play in those kinds of games.
Q: How realistic is an NCAA Tournament bid for this team?
A: In my opinion, it’s super realistic.
Q: Sum up Coach Mike Anderson.
A: He lets us play basketball. He’s not putting us to one position, he’s not putting us to one spot. He’s letting us play basketball, he’s letting us make mistakes, he’s letting us learn and grow as we go through this. Coach is tough, I’m not gonna sit here and lie, he’s hard to play for sometimes. He wants the best out of you, that’s what you gotta understand with Coach. He may pick on people sometimes — he picks on me sometimes. But he wants the best out of us. That’s what he’s always known for, and nothing less. So he puts us on a very high pedestal, and he expects a lot from us. As a freshman, I didn’t understand it, but you learn to appreciate and learn to trust and learn to accept how Coach is, and buy into that.
Q: What is the best motivational ploy he’s used?
A: He’ll just tell us, “You guys are playing on national TV. Don’t go out there and embarrass yourselves.” He said that a couple of times my freshman year. He hasn’t said it in a while, but that’s something that’s really stuck with me. You know like, “You’re playing on national television, you’re playing for St. John’s — don’t embarrass yourself and don’t embarrass the school. Go out there and do what we do in practice.”
Q: Describe him off the court.
A: Super cool guy. You can talk to him about anything. His door is always open. He doesn’t sugarcoat, he’ll tell you what it is. He’s a real dude. I would trust him with my life, honestly. That’s how real he keeps it, in my opinion. He’s super, super genuine.
Q: What’s it like having Lou Carnesecca at the games?
A: It’s honestly a blessing. A lot of guys look at him and may not know the history with him, but it’s a blessing being able to speak to him sometimes and pick his mind. That’s something that people don’t get from a winning coach, from a coach who’s done great things, a Hall of Fame coach. Having him on courtside and being able to talk to him, it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice he’s given you?
A: Just let it come to me. Not to worry about it too much, it’s gonna come. Just play hard, really: Put New York on our backs and make the city proud. That’s what he told me last time I spoke to him.
Q: What is one area of your game in which you want to make the biggest strides?
A: Definitely my 1-on-1 defense. I feel like that’s kind of been my biggest question mark throughout the whole summer with everybody, really. And I want to make that an emphasis point.
Q: What does it mean to you being the first NYC recruit of the Mike Anderson Era?
Q: I feel like everybody’s talked to me about, “Be your own person, don’t follow people, do what you want to do,” and I feel like for the first time in a while, I made a decision that I wanted to make. My dad went there, I was able to prolong a legacy with my dad and then create my own with basketball.
Q: Were you tempted to go to Pitt with your twin brother Justin?
A: Yeah. I don’t really tell people, but I had committed to Pittsburgh verbally. I was doing it solely because of Justin. I didn’t really want to rush my process. I gave myself two weeks to think about it, and I just wasn’t ready to commit to school yet.
Q: How much of a bummer was it for you personally to be compared all the time to Justin?
A: I didn’t look at it as a bummer, only because he’s my twin. I’m OK with that. I don’t like being compared to a lot of other people, but Justin I’m fine with. It was a little like … not depressing, but I kind of longed for, like, my own lane, my own thing, really. Everybody knows us as the twins, and I feel like with me being able to separate from Justin, [that] kind of gave me my own name. People know him as Justin, and people know me as Julian. They could differentiate our games, they know the difference. It was a bummer at first, and I was able to take it and use it as a boost to being like, “All right, I’m gonna make sure that he has his game and people know that I’m not Justin, I’m a little different from Justin.”
Q: What is it like watching your twin play for the Raptors?
A: It’s honestly a crazy feeling, ’cause that’s all we grew up talking about, dreaming about. People would tell us like, “Oh, have a backup plan,” or, “You can’t do that,” or, “Oh, it’s impossible,” ’cause basically it is impossible. It’s very hard to get there. So seeing him achieve that and get there, in its own way it’s a really good feeling.
Q: Do you guys dream of playing together in the NBA?
A: It would be a really cool experience to be able to play with him in the NBA. That’s top of the line. So it would be fun.
Q: Describe your on-court mentality.
A: Go get it, honestly. I feel like I’m a very laid-back kid, quiet … but on the court I want to win. We want this game, we’re gonna go get it. I’m gonna go get it.
Q: How does your on-court mentality different from Justin’s?
A: I think our mentalities are pretty much the same, I think it’s just the way we act, which is different. We’re both gonna go do what we gotta do, but I’m very quiet about it, and Justin’s very loud about it. You’re gonna know he has 30 points, 20 points … you’re gonna know it.
Q: How often do you speak to him now?
A: I still speak to him just about every day. The conversations have been a lot shorter ’cause we’re super busy now.
Q: How is he liking NBA life?
A: He loves it. He said it’s tough, it’s a mental grind every day. It’s not what he expected, but he loves it. The workouts are harder, the players are stronger, everything is just a little different, the level of competition goes up.
Q: Did being overlooked in high school drive you?
A: Yeah, I feel like I had to work a little harder than a lot of other people who got that attention. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I like being the underdog, I like being the quiet kid, I like being the kid that nobody talks about, because it makes moments like this year and this past summer a lot more sweeter, like getting invites to the NBA Combine.
Q: How neat was playing with Justin as a senior at Bishop Loughlin H.S.?
A: I feel like that was kind of the year we created our own identities, we kind of stepped into our own roles as players, found our like spots on the court. I feel like that year, the whole year, we kind of had some ups and downs with who’s going to what school and what we want to do, so I feel like midway through the year, I kind of realized like this may not be ever again. We may never play on the same team again. So just enjoying those moments, enjoying that moment of playing with him, and enjoying his company on the court. It was super special that year.
Q: What do you like best about this St. John’s team?
A: I feel like every team is a family, but this one has something special to it.
Q: How do you view the Big East Conference?
A: It’s a tough conference, you can’t come in here and then say this is high school basketball or biddy basketball, as Coach likes to say it. It’s not like any other conference. It’s a mix of strength, toughness, speed, agility, athleticism. … It’s a tough conference, just to put it in simple terms, really.
Q: Do you have a favorite tattoo?
A: I kind of like them all the same. … The one on my right leg that says “718.” That’s my area code, so that means a lot.
Q: What drives you?
A: My love for the game. And my want to be so good and be great is what pushes me day in and day out. I want to be better than everybody, so I gotta work harder, more, than everybody. Obviously, my family motivates me to go hard every day. My brother does, especially.
Q: You sometimes work out three times a day. That sounds like a Mamba mentality.
A: I’m not gonna call it Mamba mentality, ’cause that mentality was very different. But, I do push myself very hard, like I do put myself in a different category and try to separate myself from everybody else, the best I can at least.
Q: What were your first impressions of playing AAU ball in sixth grade with current teammate Posh Alexander?
A: I feel like Posh plays the same way he does now that he played before. We were working out at some prep school in Brooklyn and we were doing drills and stuff, and I would always tell myself like, “How is this kid so fast?” And, “How does he do what he does at that pace?”
Q: Does he remind you of anybody?
A: The way he gets after it defensively, I’d say Patrick Beverley, and offensively he has a lot to his game that he probably hasn’t tapped into yet. He’s definitely one of a kind on the defensive end of the floor, ’cause he is … a rat (chuckle). He is all over the place.
Q: Red Storm associate head coach Van Macon was instrumental in getting you to St. John’s.
A: He’s a very real dude, so there was no sugarcoating, and I was in, I was super comfortable with it, and I trust him. He was a big part of me going to St. John’s.
Q: Describe the first time you played at the Garden.
A: West Virginia, 2019. I remember stepping on the court and looking up, and actually panicking because of how packed it was, how big the arena really is. When you’re on the court just looking up at the fans, it’s actually pretty scary. But I remember my first reaction being, “Wow, like, I’m really here. I did it.”
Q: Who is New York’s college team, St. John’s or Syracuse?
A: St. John’s. Listen, everybody talks about New York this and New York that — New York is only the five boroughs. After that, that’s the suburbs, I don’t even know what that is. When you say New York, the first thing you think about is New York City, the five boroughs. You don’t think about Syracuse, Buffalo, none of that. We’re New York’s team, a hundred percent.
Q: If you could go one-on-one with any player in NBA history, who would it be?
A: Kevin Durant, just ’cause he’s my favorite player. He didn’t really have a position on the court, and I feel like that’s kind of how I am.
Q: Tell me about the time you and Justin took the car without your mother knowing.
A: I honestly don’t remember where we went. When we first got our driver’s license, we would want to drive by ourself. My mom would never, ever, ever let us drive by ourself. We used to get so mad, so mad, so mad. So one day me and Justin were just like, “All right, we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it.” And we just literally got in the car and left, and by the time she figured it out, we were already driving and she called us screaming. It was actually pretty fun. I would do it again, honestly.
Q: Who drove, you or Justin?
A: Justin drove.
Q: What were the best playground games growing up?
A: I had two parks I went to all the time. One was [P.S.] 230, and the other one was Carroll Park. I really found my love for the game at Carroll Park. When we were like 13, 14, even 12, we would play with guys that were 17, 18, 19, 20, and we would hold our own. Those games were tough.
Q: Why was your grandmother’s cat Tiffany so important to you?
A: (Laugh) That cat was extremely cute and extremely friendly. I’d always play with her, and then when she passed away, it was a devastating moment in my childhood.
Q: She has JJ now.
A: That’s also my companion. JJ’s a really nice cat, she’s black and gray.
Q: What was your fascination as a kid with toy trains?
A: I used to love trains. I used to make a different track every day.
Q: What about nerf guns?
A: Me and Justin might’ve had like 20 or 30 of those things in the house. And on weekends when we had nothing to do, my mom would be out doing whatever, we would literally turn the house into like a nerf gun battle, and shoot each other everywhere. And then we would never want to pick up the bullets, ever. That would be like my dad’s job.
Q: Who was your boyhood idol?
A: I’m gonna say my dad, honestly. I feel like I got my work ethic from him … leave early, come home late, it inspired me.
Q: Your father Ranford won an NCAA soccer championship at St. John’s in 1996. You went to a lot of soccer camps with him.
A: For the most part, those were pretty much fun. I did enjoy playing soccer, but I’m not an outside person, I’m a very inside person, so I don’t like the heat. So I would tend to stay in the Sky Box and watch them play while I was up there eating or something.
Q: What do you hope to be able to tell NBA general managers next year about why they should draft Julian Champagnie?
A: I like to let my personality, my game talk, and I feel like I’m quiet, I’m humble, I have a great work ethic. If I had to tell them something, I’m a good teammate. Obviously everybody wants to win, everybody wants to have personal accolades, but it brings me genuine joy when I see my teammates doing good. Seeing Posh get [Big East Freshman of the Year], I came up so short getting that. That was like a goal of mine for him. I’m super happy for my teammates all the time.
Q: What are your personal goals?
A: One of my goals that people may think like I’m reaching for is Defensive Player of the Year. That’s probably one of my biggest goals this year is to prove everybody wrong with that. Other than that, I want everything I can get. I’m not gonna shy away from nothing, nobody, nothing, no awards, no. I want everything I can get.
Q: You’ve come a long way since you were touted on Stock Risers. My nephew Jake Weingarten, the site’s founder, nailed you, right?
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Kevin Durant, Kobe [Bryant], Martin Luther King [Jr.].
Q: Favorite movie?
Q: Favorite actors?
A: Jason Statham, Denzel Washington.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: Lil Durk.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Chicken parmigiana.
Q: What was it like playing with no fans last season?
A: It was tough, but the one thing I am truly thankful for is Coach, the way we practice. It kind of prepared us to play games with no fans. So I feel like that gave us a little of an upper hand on some teams.
Q: What is so special about St. John’s fans?
A: Their energy is unmatched. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of energy. You don’t get that from everywhere. That’s a lot of fan love.
Q: A message for St. John’s followers and fans.
A: That we’re comin’. We’re not laying down. We’re here to stay, and we’re here to win. Basically we’re gonna run through a brick wall for them.
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