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Justin Champagnie ahead of schedule in injury recovery

The Pitt wing injured his LCL three weeks ago and could return this month

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt star Justin Champagnie has been sidelined for three weeks since suffering an LCL injury in December, and he was initially given a recovery timetable of six to eight weeks. However, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel revealed on Monday that the small forward is ahead of schedule.

“I do expect him to be back before the six to eight weeks,” Capel said of Champagnie on Monday. “I still don’t know exactly when that will be, but he’s progressing very, very well.”

The announcement followed an ACC Network interview last Thursday in which Pitt shooting guard Ithiel Horton discussed Champagnie and noted he had been showing off his athleticism at practice without any issues.

“Justin’s doing well,” Horton told Mark Packer and Wes Durham. “Before we left to go to Syracuse, he was dunking in practice. So he could be back sooner than later.”

But with that said, Capel noted that Champagnie is still not able to practice with the team during sessions. So his return may not be as imminent as one might imagine, given Horton’s recent account.

“He’s not practicing,” Capel said. “He’s able to do some stuff individually, [and we’re] starting to integrate him back into doing some stuff individually, some individual workouts. In a practice, if we’re doing just shooting — like no contact, just shooting — he’s able to do a little bit of that. ... We want to be very careful, and we’re not going to play him back on the court until we believe that he’s completely healthy.”

As Capel tells it, Champagnie would already be back if the decision was up to him, but the Pitt staff is taking the time to ensure his full and proper recovery before greenlighting his return. Given that, his comeback is still down the road a bit, but with only three to five weeks left on the initial timeline provided and that timeline now expected to be too long, Champagnie could be back in action before February.

Of course, the Brooklyn native’s return is contingent on Pitt having the chance to take the court and play, and this season, that’s far from a given, as multiple ACC teams have struggled with COVID-19 issues. So far Pitt has postponed four games, including its matchup at Georgia Tech this Wednesday. As a result, the team’s next scheduled game is against Syracuse at the Petersen Events Center this coming Saturday at noon ET.

Barring any positive COVID-19 tests or new injuries, Pitt will have every player on its roster other than Champagnie available for that game. In its last contest, which was also against Syracuse, Pitt was missing Noah Collier, John Hugley and Nike Sibande due to COVID-19 issues. However, the three players have since returned to practice.

Champagnie is Pitt's leading scorer and rebounder this season, as he was averaging 17.8 points and 12.3 boards per game prior to his injury. The sophomore was also playing at a higher level than ever before, as he capped off a three-game double-double streak by posting back-to-back 20-point, 20-rebound games in December, and his return has been highly anticipated by the Pitt fanbase and staff.