Amid all of the craziness within the Pitt basketball program right now, some positive news was announced on Thursday regarding the team’s best player.
Justin Champagnie was named one of just five finalists for the Karl Malone Award, which is given annually to the best power forward in the nation.
Champagnie, the ACC’s leading scorer and rebounder, is averaging 18.8 points as well as 11.4 rebounds per game. Even after missing two games in December due to a knee injury suffered in practice, Champagnie returned to the floor and dominated almost every team he faced for the rest of the season.
In Pitt’s win over Duke that improved its record to 8-2, Champagnie dropped 31 points and 14 rebounds, perhaps his strongest game of the year. Since then, although the team has struggled mightily, Champagnie has still proven that he can hang with the best of them in the conference.
Standing at just 6-foot-6, Champagnie is undersized for a power forward in today’s game. However, his toughness, strength, and touch around the rim allow him to play much bigger than his height and dominate against taller opponents.
Along with Champagnie, the list includes Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, Seton Hall’s Sandro Mamukelashvili, and Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
“I am thankful for the honor to annually present an award bearing my name,” said Karl Malone, the namesake of the award. “Over the past six years, we have recognized some truly gifted athletes who have gone on to have great success in the game. The player who is selected to join the fraternity of this award should be very proud to be in such elite company.”
The award’s last three winners, Obi Toppin, Zion Williamson, and Deandre Ayton, have all been first-round picks in the NBA. While the state of the program is uncertain at the moment, it is looking more and more like Champagnie will follow in those players’ footsteps and pursue NBA opportunities. However, it is all just speculation at the moment, as Champagnie has also expressed his interest in playing against his brother, who plays for St. Johns, next season.
Champagnie’s next chance to strengthen his case for the Karl Malone Award will come in Pitt’s next game against NC State on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m.