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Toronto Raptors put Champagnie — Julian, not Justin — through pre-draft paces

TORONTO — Julian Champagnie has seen the rigours an NBA season first-hand from his twin brother Justin, and so has no illusions about playing basketball on the game's biggest stage. "I definitely have a lot of respect for (Justin)," Julian said.
St. John's Julian Champagnie (2) reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova at the Big East conference tournament on March 10, 2022, in New York. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Franklin II

TORONTO — Julian Champagnie has seen the rigours an NBA season first-hand from his twin brother Justin, and so has no illusions about playing basketball on the game's biggest stage.

"I definitely have a lot of respect for (Justin)," Julian said. "He did have some really high moments and had some really low ones where he wasn't playing (in his rookie season with the Raptors), and I know how he felt, it was tough. Seeing him persevere and continue to go harder and eventually find his role, it was something nice to watch."

Julian Champagnie said it had been a couple of years since the 20-year-old identical twins had played together, but they were on the same OVO Athletic Centre court in Toronto on Wednesday. 

The Raptors brought Julian in for a pre-draft workout, while Justin — who's one season into a two-way deal with the Raptors and their G League affiliate Raptors 905 — was across the gym practising with some teammates.

The brothers went their separate ways after high school, Julian to St. John's, where he played three seasons of NCAA basketball, Justin to Pittsburgh, where he played two seasons. He went undrafted last year, but the Raptors signed the 6-6 small forward soon after.

Julian Champagnie, who shot 41.4 per cent this past season, said their games are quite different. He's more of a shooter, he said, while his brother plays more of a power game.

Toronto marked Champagnie's sixth stop on his NBA pre-draft workout schedule, and he had several more to complete. So odds are slim he'll end up on the same pro team as his brother.

But it's a nice thought.

"It'd be cool. We haven't played in a while together so it might be difficult at first, I think we've grown apart as people and as players," Champagnie said. 

Who'd win a one-on-one battle?

"I'd definitely beat him one-on-one," Champagnie said with a laugh.

The fact the six-foot-eight guard was auditioning at OVO Athletic Centre was news in itself — it was the first time the team has been able to bring players to Toronto for pre-draft workouts in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This time last year, the Raptors were putting players through their paces at their temporary home in Tampa, Fla. Two years ago, teams had to resort to virtual meetings with players and whatever college game film was available.

"Honestly, it has been such a challenge the last couple of years," Toronto’s vice-president of player personnel Dan Tolzman said Wednesday. "In (2020), the pandemic was a challenge for every team and then last year I think us more than most teams were continuing to deal with these challenges. 

"And to have some sense of normalcy and back to our usual operations of the pre-draft process, it makes everything a little bit more comfortable, and . . . from a staff morale standpoint of like we're in our usual way of doing things. It makes things a little bit easier and smoother to go through."

The Raptors decided to move back in this year's draft when they included their first-round pick in a trade for Thaddeus Young. 

Intense preparation — and a good dose of luck — will determine who they acquire in the June 23 draft in Brooklyn. 

"There's always two, two-plus, names that we will probably have ranked in the 20s or at least higher than our pick that will end up being there (at 33) that we have to really be kind of on the clock, rethink about and debate a little bit stronger," Tolzman said.

"We're working really hard trying to narrow down the group of guys that we think we're going to be looking at, and then trying to fine-tune who we like in that group. But then you also have to kind of prepare for five to 10 guys who might drop to you just in case, and then how do they compare against the guys that we were preparing for that we expect to be there?"

The Raptors selected Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick in last year's draft, and he went on to capture NBA rookie of the year honours. Toronto native Dalano Banton became the first Canadian drafted by the Raptors when they selected him with the 46th pick. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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