In order for the Pitt basketball program to return to national prominence, the roster needs to add more talented depth to the roster.
That, of course is easier said than done but Jeff Capel got off to a good start last year but adding Justin Champagnie from Brooklyn, New York.
While Champagnie’s commitment didn’t come with heavy attention that accompanies a four or five-star recruit, his play on the court earned him plenty of compliments and gives the Panthers program legitimate optimism heading into next season.
Champagnie finished the 2019-20 season as the teams leading scorer with 12.7 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 42% from the field.
Pittsburgh Sports Now caught up with Pitt’s rising star to get his thoughts on his freshman season, playing for Capel, off-season goals and the optimism for next season.
PSN: Looking back, were you happy and what were your thoughts on your first season at Pitt?
Champagnie: “Yeah, I was happy with what I was able to accomplish this year and I did everything I could for the team. Some games were better than others. I have to learn to bring it every game and try and get better at not having any off-games in order to give my team a better chance if winning.”
PSN: What surprised you most about playing big-time D-I basketball?
JC: “Really, everything that happened this season is what I expected like the, the strength difference, the physical grind and the length of season. Going into next season, as a team and me especially, I need to work on and improve my conditioning so that late in the season when we have a stretch of games, practices day after day so that we’re still at the top of our games. We have to be better athletes in order to stay in shape. We have to be willing to push ourselves so that we all can become better and better, especially down the stretch.”
PSN: Last season, you might have been a bit of an unknown player and surprised some teams but that won’t be the case this year. Are you looking forward to the challenge of being a player that opposing teams will he looking to focus on?
JC: “I am and always, always look forward to a challenge. I like when teams try and key up on me and I look at that as a good thing and think that will make me come better. Anything you do in life, you have to battle through challenges and adversity. It’s going to be different but I’m looking forward to it and getting better as a player for my team.”
PSN: Speaking of getting better, what’s one thing you’re working at this off-season in order to get better.
JC: “I want to become a better ball-handler so that I’m able to create for myself off the dribble. I can do it but I wasn’t real comfortable trying to do it so I’ve been working on that daily. I need to get my confidence back at doing it again so that I can put the ball on the deck. That’s the main thing I’m working on along with getting my body in better shape and become stronger for next year.”
PSN: What was Coach Capel’s off-season message to you?
JC: “He always tells me and has been telling me for a long time that we need to keep working to get better and that if I’m willing to put in the time that the sky’s the limit for me. He told me to not be satisfied with what I did and keep working, never be satisfied.”
PSN: Coach Capel was a big reason you committed to Pitt, what was the first season like playing for him.
JC: ”Honestly, it was my best year ever of playing basketball. Everything he told me on my official visit to Pitt was true. Coming into the season, I didn’t know what to expect, especially since I got hurt, but he kept with me and told me everything I needed to do including working. Honestly, it was great playing for him, I had so much fun and can’t wait to get back at it for next year.”
PSN: The team was obviously still a few missing pieces away from being able to compete. With the new additions, do you believe you’re closer to doing that?
JC: “Definitely. This year, I think we lacked in certain areas but I feel that with all the guys coming in like John [Hugley], Femi [Odukale], Ithiel Horton, our transfer, are bringing us more talent and depth to our bench. We’re adding more firepower and I really think that this year will be different and that we’ll be able to make big steps to stop the losing. I’m tired of losing and think that will change this season and we’ll be a better team.”
PSN: Taking into account the current situation with the world, what’s your daily day consisting of?
JC: “Before things got so bad, I’d go to the park everyday and just shoot, work on my ball handling and just do push-up after push-up. But now that they’ve closed everything down, I just go to the gym with an old coach and just shoot. Then I come home and my brother and I then do 100 push-ups apiece. So it’s gym in the morning and then midway working out at home in order to get in better shape.”
PSN: Do you have a message for Pitt fans about next season?
JC: “We’re going to be better, going to be tougher and we’re not going to lose those close games. I can promise that day in and day out, we’re going to fight for them and work to win.”