From the first moment Justin Champagnie met with the Toronto Raptors during the NBA’s pre-draft process he’s known where he’s wanted to be. There was something about the energy, he said, the way the coaches spoke to him, the vision they had, and their reputation that drew the 20-year-old forward to Toronto.
It couldn’t have been all that disappointing when his name wasn’t called during the 2021 NBA Draft because Champagnie knew it meant he was free to go wherever he wanted.
“I told my agent right away I wanted to play in Toronto. Like right after the workout I told him that,” said Champagnie whose agent, Todd Ramasar, also represents Pascal Siakam. “It was like a no-brainer.”
For Toronto, it’s easy to see why the 6-foot-6 Champagnie was such an easy fit on the Raptors’ versatile roster. Despite his slender build, he’s somehow a rebounding machine. He averaged 11 rebounds per game as a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh last season and grabbed 10 rebounds in Toronto’s preseason opener on Monday.
What’s his secret?
“Just go do 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.”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse of Champagnie’s rebounding prowess. “He just really has a knack for it, and he just really believes he can get them all. And he will. He’ll get his hands on them and tip them to himself, tip them to other guys. He’s tough, man. He’s tough.”
That kind of work ethic is going to jive well in Toronto. It’s why Champagnie isn’t worried about being on a two-way contract, a fringe roster player in the NBA these days. He’s had this plan mapped out in his head since he was a child: Two years of university and then off to the NBA.
“When I put my mind to something, I’m going to go to do it,” he said.
The next step will be developing within Toronto’s system. He needs to become a better shooter and sort of smooth out his game a little more. Some time if the G League this season will certainly help, but if his first preseason game is any indication of what’s to come, the Raptors may have found another versatile and valuable rotation player for the years to come.
“He’s been awesome,” Nurse said. “It will be hard to keep him out of the rotation the way he has played.”