MIAMI – It hardly is unusual for NBA players to steal part of other players’ games.
Miami Heat prospect Justin Champagnie has upped the ante in that regard — he essentially is (hopefully) stealing Caleb Martin’s story: Twin brother of an NBA player who has to fight long odds to make his way with the Heat.
“They have a track record with this,” Champagnie said with a laugh, after the 6-foot-6 forward completed a workout this week at Kaseya Center.
That the Heat do.
When Caleb Martin arrived to the Heat’s 2021 training camp, he arrived as an undrafted prospect with a degree of NBA experience and the support system of an identical twin also in the NBA.
When Champagnie signed with the Heat last month, he arrived following tenures with a pair of NBA teams and with a twin also attempting to find his way in the league.
For Caleb Martin, the story centered on his previous uneven run with the Charlotte Hornets and the support system of Hornets forward Cody Martin.
For Justin Champagnie, there were previously cameos with the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, all while maintaining the perspective of Julian Champagnie being on a similar path with the San Antonio Spurs.
“We speak every single day,” Justin said of his twin brother. “And we FaceTime at least three times a day. Actually, I just came back from San Antonio this weekend.”
But there also are differences in plotlines.
While the Martin twins played together at North Carolina State, Nevada and then with the Hornets, the Champagnie twins have gone their own ways since Justin played at the University of Pittsburgh and Julian at St. John’s.
Another difference is that when Caleb Martin made his break with Cody, it was by moving on to the Heat on a two-way contract. For Justin Champagnie, there only is an Exhibit 10 tryout contract, nothing guaranteed beyond training camp at Florida Atlantic University.
But there also is a familiarity. Champagnie, an aggressive rebounder whose interior and defensive athleticism still needs to be complemented by a more reliable shot, finished the 2022-23 G League season with the Heat’s affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
That has him running through drills these past six weeks ahead of the Oct. 3 starting of training camp alongside former Skyforce and current Heat teammates Jamaree Bouyea, Jamal Cain and Orlando Robinson, with that group advancing to the second round of playoffs in the G League.
“That’s actually the best thing,” said Champagnie, who at Pittsburgh became the first Atlantic Coast Conference player to have two or more games with 20 points and 20 rebounds in a season since Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan in 1996-97. “To be honest, it actually makes it a lot easier. Already playing with a few guys makes it easier to go out there.”
An additional level of familiarity came in the playoffs. Two of Champagnie’s four playoff appearances with the Celtics came against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, allowing for time to catch up with former Skyforce teammates Cain, Robinson and Nikola Jovic.
“I’ve wanted to come here since Sioux Falls,” Champagnie said. “The Heat have a track record of having guys on that team and building them to be the players they are today. So it definitely played a role.”
But that only will get Champagnie so far.
The most likely path to making the final cut will be a two-way contract, with Cain and Bouyea currently holding two of those three allotted spots, with point guard Dru Smith, another Skyforce alum, holding the other.
Against that backdrop is the Heat’s potential trade for Damian Lillard, a prospective deal that could have more players going out than coming in, potentially opening additional roster spots.
“I’m just keeping my head grounded and being appreciative of the opportunity I have in front of me,” Champagnie said, with the Heat known for giving such prospects the opportunity to earn their way onto the roster through performance in the summer program, training camp and the preseason. “A lot of teams don’t really do that. A lot of teams just kind of get guys in there and just stash ’em for the G League or whatever it may be.
“It’s good knowing you actually have an opportunity to make the team or get a two-way, to kick start your career. And that makes you work harder.”
All the while preparing for the daily debriefs with a brother also born on June 29, 2001.
“We talk about basketball a lot. He’ll come tell me about his, and I’ll tell him about mine,” Justin said of the Spurs’ Julian. “We try to pretty much contrast and compare.”