Pitt sophomore Justin Champagnie has been a fixture on award watch lists, mock drafts and midseason honor rolls this year, as his outstanding play has captured the attention of the college basketball world. His name has also come up frequently in the ACC Player of the Year conversation, and on Friday, a poll of 15 beat writers covering ACC teams revealed Champagnie is the media's favorite for the conference’s highest individual honor.
The poll was conducted by Brendan Marks of The Athletic, and Champagnie came out on top, securing seven first-place votes for the honor from the 15-person panel. He also received four second-place votes, and in a system in which first-place votes count for three points apiece, second-place votes count for two points each and third-place votes are worth one, that gave him a top score of 29 points.
Louisville point guard Carlik Jones came in a distant second, with 16 points on three first-place votes, three second-place votes and one third-place vote. And behind Jones were Jay Huff of Virginia, with 13 points; Keve Aluma of Virginia Tech, with 10 points; Jose Alvarado of Georgia Tech, with eight points; and M.J. Walker of Florida State, with four points. Each member of that quartet of players also received at least one first-place vote, and some, like Huff and Walker, benefited from the stature of their respective teams.
However, the best player-best team argument was slow to pick up steam in the shadow of Champagnie’s impressive performance, and C.L. Brown of the Raleigh News & Observer, who was one of the media members polled, argued that the Brooklyn native’s play has transcended Pitt’s struggles as a team.
“Like [ACC Player of the Year] T.J. Warren in 2014, the best player-best team doesn’t always neatly sum up who should win the award,” he said. “The list of players to lead the ACC in both scoring and rebounding over the last 50 years is brief for a reason. It’s nearly impossible to do, and Champagnie is doing it.”
As Brown noted, Champagnie is the ACC’s leader in both scoring and rebounding, as he is averaging 18.7 points and 11.5 boards per game. The Pitt star has also racked up 10 double-doubles in 15 games, and the only player from a major-conference team with more is Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, who has 15 in 20 games. And given the fact that Cockburn is a hulking 7’0” and 285 pounds while Champagnie stands at 6’6”, 200 pounds, the feat is all the more impressive.
Champagnie has been touted as a potential ACC Player of the Year by Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams this season, and other opposing coaches, like Kevin Keatts and Jim Boeheim, have spoken highly of his performances. In addition, Champagnie was the only ACC player to earn midseason All-America honors from ESPN, and he was one of two to be placed on the Wooden Award watch list.
Given all that, it was inevitable that Champagnie would stand out in the minds of many as a star deserving of ACC Player of the Year honors in 2021. However, in order to secure the title, he will have to put on a few more solid performances against some stiff competition, as matchups with Florida State and Clemson still lie ahead for Pitt. In addition, he will have to impress a 75-person panel that includes 60 members of the media as well as all 15 ACC head coaches. But fortunately for Champagnie, he may already have.