In the concrete jungle of New York City, it can be nearly impossible to make a name for yourself, so the Champagnie twins are making a name for themselves.
Justin and Julian Champagnie are identical twins from Brooklyn, and the two high school juniors have joint offers from 18 schools, including Pittsburgh, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Dayton. They might reclassify for the Class of 2019, but right now are slated to begin their college basketball career in 2020.
Regardless, they’ll be a package deal. They don’t know any other way.
“We’re always together,” Justin Champagnie said. “We come as one, we go as one. It’s always been that way. It’s never going to change.”
The two are crucial to their Bishop Loughlin Memorial team in Brooklyn and have burst onto the recruiting scene since their sophomore years. But it wasn’t always so positive.
Before high school, the two decided to drop soccer and baseball and focus on basketball, and they chose Bishop Loughlin for their adolescent years. The Catholic school has a rich basketball history, with its alumni including Mike Boynton, Alvin Young, Mark Jackson, Devin Ebanks and more. The twins accepted the challenge of following in their footsteps.
Not everyone believed in them, though, and they ensured the teenagers knew it. One week before their freshman year started, the twins and their father were playing basketball at a park near the school. A parent of another player the Champagnie twins knew came over to them and asked if they’d be attending Bishop Loughlin that year. They told him yes.
“The guy was like, ‘You know, you’re never going to be good enough to play there, because there’s a lot of talent there and your kids are not ready for that kind of competition and that level of play,’” Justin Champagnie said the parent told him and his family. “Every time I step on the court, I think of that day when the guy told me I wasn’t good enough to play. I use that as my motivation to be better.”
The twins still had mental barriers to break after beginning at Bishop Loughlin. In their sophomore year, Justin had established himself as a consistent contributor on the team, but Julian was spending large chunks of time on the pine.
“My 10th grade year, that was probably my roughest time,” Julian Champagnie explained. “I was just starting to get the knowledge of understanding how basketball coaches work and how all the other stuff works. People were telling me, ‘Oh, (Justin) is better than you, you should find something else to do.’”
Although the only noticeable difference in the twins’ appearance is Justin’s longer hair, their personalities depart. Justin is more outspoken, while Julian is quieter and more reserved. When Julian was struggling as a sophomore, it riled his brother up.
“When other people were telling him he’s not as good as me and he stinks and whatnot, I was more of an aggressive person, like, ‘Yo, boy, me and him are on a path, and not to be cocky, but me and him are on a path to do something good with ourselves,’” Justin Champagnie said. “’We’re not going to let what you think and your opinion get in the way of what we’re going to do. If you could please stop telling my brother he stinks, it would be greatly appreciated, because you’re hindering his confidence, and I have a problem with that.’ I don’t like when people try to downplay (Julian) because he’s a quiet person. That to me is not cool, so when people were telling him he stinks, he sucks, he’s not good, it bothered me. It felt like they were telling me I suck, so it hurt me as well as it hurt him.”
Over the course of the year, the twins constantly reminded one another to move forward.
“We sat down with each other consistently, day after day after day, like, ‘Let’s go, bro, what are we about to do?’” Justin Champagnie explained. “’Let’s make a game plan to get to where we have to go.’ When those things occurred, we were like, ‘We have to get in the gym, work on our game consistently, and just become the best versions of ourselves.’ And that’s what we did.”
Although they don’t deal with the same negativity now, the twins still work just as hard on their game, sweating together to fight their way into Division-I basketball. Pushing through naysayers and grinding to become the basketball players they dreamed of has taught them plenty that has nothing to do with the hardwood.
“Coming into high school, we had a choice to go and follow our friends for the sake of being around people that we know or basketball,” Julian Champagnie said. “We understood that if we wanted to go through with all this, it was going to take a whole lot of work and putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations, so basketball taught us how to grow up, be yourself, speak for yourself and become a man. It plays a huge role in our lives.”
The game has done the same for his twin.
“Basketball has brought me places I never thought I would be,” Justin Champagnie said. “I wasn’t supposed to be in Loughlin, I was supposed to be in a public school with my friends so I could be comfortable. Basketball put me in uncomfortable situations where I could better myself as a person on the court and off the court. I’m thankful for the game beyond what anybody really understands.”
After going through getting to Bishop Loughlin, then solidifying themselves as key contributors and Division-I prospects, Justin said they have used it as a learning opportunity.
“Sometimes the easy route, the comfortable route, is not the route for you,” he explained. “It’s not the route that’s going to push you to be the better you. It’s not the route that’s going to push you to be the great human being you can be. The hard times, the uncomfortable situations, they build you into the person you want to be.”
The job isn’t done, and really the job will never be done. But it sure feels nice for the twins to look back on their struggles from early high school and remember how much progress they have made, especially when some of the people who doubted you are nowhere to be seen now.
The twins weren’t sure where the son of the parent who told them they’d never play at Bishop Loughlin is or if he still plays basketball. But they’re going to keep up the same belief and bravado they had then and continue now.
“His son could never guard me,” Justin Champagnie said.
This article was originally published March 8, 2019.