St. John’s expectations just rose significantly.
Julian Champagnie, last year’s Big East leading scorer and all-conference first-team selection, announced Sunday night he is taking his name out of the NBA draft and will return to school for his junior year.
It’s significant news for St. John’s, which has had a busy offseason of losing and adding players. But now, it has back the centerpiece to a team that should make the NCAA Tournament next year and will likely be projected to finish in at least the top four of the Big East.
“He went through the process and did what was best for him,” his mother, Christina, told The Post. “He gathered his information and made the choice.”
The 6-foot-8 Champagnie had said all along he was going to make a decision independent of his twin brother Justin, a star forward at Pittsburgh who opted months ago to sign with an agent and go pro. Incidentally, St. John’s will face Pitt at the Garden next year, but only one Champagnie will be on the floor.
“One’s decision didn’t have anything to do with the other’s decision,” Christina said. “Julian never signed with anyone. He kept his options open, to where whatever was going to be right for him.”
Champagnie averaged 19.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and one block last year and led St. John’s to a fourth-place finish in the Big East while shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. St. John’s had added a lot of size, which will enable Champagnie to play more on the wing next year, his position at the next level.
While St. John’s lost several players from last year’s team to transfers, most notably Greg Williams Jr. (Louisiana Lafayette), Marcellus Earlington (San Diego) and Rasheem Dunn (Robert Morris), it arguably improved its roster by landing several key transfers. That includes Aaron Wheeler (Purdue), Joel Soriano (Fordham), Montez Mathis (Rutgers) and Stef Smith (Vermont).
Champagnie had three NBA workouts, with the Celtics, Nets and Bulls, and he took part in the draft combine in Chicago. He still had scheduled workouts this week with the Pacers and 76ers prior to making this decision. Had he stayed in the draft, scouts believe he would’ve likely been a late second-round pick. He received a mid-to-late second round draft grade from the NBA advisory board, according to sources.
Throughout the process, he told the coaching staff he would only remain in the draft if he thought he could be a first-round pick, sources said. The fact that Champagnie can now make money off his name, image and likeness helped ease his decision to return, a source said.
Champagnie’s decision to return leaves St. John’s with one scholarship left after it landed former Hofstra wing Tareq Coburn on Saturday. There remains a need for a ball handler capable of playing point guard in support of starter Posh Alexander, but it is uncertain if St. John’s will use that last scholarship with such a crowded roster.
For now, that’s not an immediate concern. St. John’s has its star back. A season of big expectations is on the horizon.
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