Pitt small forward Justin Champagnie has turned heads with his outstanding play all season, and on Thursday, he earned himself a spot on the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year watch list. The award is given annually to the top defensive player in college basketball, and Champagnie is joined on the list by 14 other players from around the country.
The Pitt wing is one of three ACC players on the watch list, as Kihei Clark of Virginia and Aamir Simms of Clemson were recognized as well. Other standouts include Baylor point guard Jared Butler and Michigan shooting guard Franz Wagner, and 11 of the 15 players on the list come from Power Five programs.
After the watch list was released, Champagnie expressed gratitude for the honor but also shared the credit with his teammates.
“It is always an honor to be placed on a national watch list, but much of my defensive impact comes from the work of our entire team,” Champagnie said. “[Au’Diese Toney] is our best defender and always draws the top wing scorer from the other team. [Xavier Johnson] and our other guards have quickness and instincts to be disruptive on the perimeter and [Abdoul Karim Coulibaly] does a great job battling down low. The efforts of our entire team have really led to me being able to put up big rebounding numbers as well as come away with blocks and steals.”
Champagnie’s placement on the watch list is somewhat surprising, as he is better known for his offensive contributions and is averaging a double-double, with 20.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. But with that said, he ranks fifth in the ACC in blocks per game, with 1.5, and 18th in the conference in steals per game, with 1.4. Champagnie also leads the ACC in defensive rebound percentage, with a percentage of 26.9, and has a defensive rating of 88.6, which also leads the ACC.
In addition to earning a spot on the watch list, Champagnie has also won ACC Player of the Week honors on three occasions this season and was recently named a midseason All-American by Dick Vitale. He is also considered one of the favorites to be named ACC Player of the Year in 2021. As for the Naismith honor, Champagnie will have two more months to state his case for the national award.