Pitt is in the midst of a rough patch that has seen the team drop three straight games, but the Panthers have benefited from the dominant play of sophomore star Justin Champagnie through the good times and the bad. And now, it appears he is under consideration for the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon a college basketball player, as he was placed on the Wooden Award watch list on Monday.
More specifically, Champagnie made the late-season top 20 for the honor, and he is joined on the list by former Pitt point guard Marcus Carr, who is now with Minnesota, as well as former Pitt recruiting targets Kofi Cockburn, who is now a center at Illinois, and Hunter Dickinson, who is now a center at Michigan. The list also features national standouts like Iowa center Luka Garza and Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs. The only other ACC player on the list is Louisville point guard Carlik Jones.
The list is a who’s who of the top talents in the sport, and despite his association with a troubled program in a conference said to be having a down year, Champagnie has left no doubt about whether he belongs in such elite company with his performance. This season, Champagnie is averaging a double-double, with 20.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game through 11 contests, and his output places him among the best of the best on the list.
Champagnie is one of two players on the watch list from one of the major seven conferences averaging a double-double and one of three overall. Cockburn is the only other from a major conference, and he is averaging 16.9 points and 10.3 boards through 16 games, meaning Champagnie has him beat in both categories. Western Kentucky center Charles Bussey is the third man averaging a double-double, and he currently has averages of 17.8 points and 12.2 rebounds through 16 games.
In terms of pure scoring, Garza is the national leader and thus the most productive player on the watch list, with 26.4 points per game. But he is one of only four Wooden candidates outscoring Champagnie on a per-game basis at the moment. And with that said, Champagnie is one of the most well-rounded players on the list, and by the season's end, he should have a solid resume in place for the award.
The Wooden Award is one of several honors Champagnie’s name has been tied to, as he was also placed on the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year watch list and has been touted as a candidate for the ACC Player of the Year honor by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and others. Now, with a solid start to the season secured, the Brooklyn native will work to maintain his incredible pace and try to get Pitt back to its winning ways before its postseason window closes for good.