Donovan Clingan an NCAA key for UConn men despite bumps, bruises

ALBANY — In the back corner of the UConn men’s basketball locker room Saturday afternoon, Donovan Clingan was chatting with time to kill, as if he’d just cast his line in the water.

He wore a black Huskies Basketball zip-up hoodie and a black bucket hat with the NCAA’s March Madness logo, which had been removed from a swag bag Saturday morning and then pulled to his forehead. It will come in handy when fishing streams and ponds in Bristol this summer, and in ocean waters miles offshore.

“Bass, trout, deep-sea tuna, I love them all,” Clingan said. “Very relaxing.”

The bruise under Clingan’s right eye had yellowed and almost disappeared. Trips to the dentist — first in December, again in February — had replaced the tooth he’d knocked out twice this season, and he smiled again and again as he retraced the lightning-fast steps of the past 12 months.
His first season at UConn went very well. The texts are coming in from Bristol this week.
“Just to tell me how proud they are and what it means to see someone from Bristol play for Connecticut in March Madness,” Clingan said. “All my friends really talk about how proud they are. I want to make them [prouder]keep winning and keep doing what I do and get better and better every day.”
The Huskies will play a second round game of the West Regional NCAA Tournament against St. Mary’s at the MVP Arena on Sunday. A trip to Las Vegas and a ticket to the Sweet 16 are on the line and Clingan, the six-foot-tall freshman center that stands out for so many reasons, has managed to blend in as one of the Huskies’ many critical links.
One year ago Sunday, Clingan was at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“The 19th, yes, state championship game,” he said. “I competed in a state championship a year ago. Now I’m competing for a national championship. It’s crazy how time flies. High school was a time to remember. The memories I got from high school, playing in the state tournament and winning the state championship are memories I will cherish forever.
Clingan’s final high school game marked one of the most celebrated careers in CIAC history.
On March 19, 2022, he had 25 points and 24 rebounds in Bristol Central’s 56–36 victory over Northwest Catholic for the Division II title. Central 43ed consecutive victory brought home the program’s first championship since 1990.
On March 19, 2023, Clingan will attempt to help UConn to a second NCAA site for the first time since 2014. The Huskies opened the tournament on Friday with a victory over Iona, a game they dominated indoors. Adama Sanogo (28 and 13) and Clingan (12 and nine) combined for 41 points and 25 rebounds and it was the last reminder that UConn has something few teams have in them.
That’s a lot of points and a lot of rebounds at center position.
“Especially in college,” Sanogo said. “Me and Donovan, we know every game we show, if Donovan plays well and I play well, we always win those games. To win, we have to win our matchup. Oh my God, Donovan, help me so good , helps the team. Once I said, ‘Donovan, last year, at the end of the season, I was so tired.’ But Donovan is here now. I’m very proud of him.'”
Clingan averages 7.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 13.2 minutes for the Huskies (26-8).
“We knew we were going to have an impact from him,” said UConn coach Dan Hurley. “However, we didn’t know he would be so dominant at times.”
Clingan and Sanogo will be key to UConn’s game against St. Mary’s. The Huskies are second in the nation in recovering margin at plus-9.2. The Gaels, ninth with plus-7.2, are led up front by 6-10 center Mitchell Saxen, averaging 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, and 6-8 forward Kyle Bowen, averaging 5.2 and 7.1.
Clingan had been waiting in the wings for such a long time, it seemed. He attended many UConn home games during his last two years with Bristol Central, both before and after his deployment. And soon he was no longer a fan of Michigan.
“I watched UConn, enjoyed watching UConn,” Clingan said. “I was a fan of Michigan. But when it came time to decide where I wanted to go to school, I realized that UConn was the best choice for me. Yes, because it is about 45-50 minutes from my house. But at the same time, the coaching staff, the environment, only the school itself has such a good history. I realized that I would be happiest here.”
Can we come back to that for a second? Michigan? Didn’t Clingan go to UConn games in Hartford and Storrs even when he was a little kid?
“I did,” he said. “But I was a die-hard Michigan fan. I’ve always watched all their matches. But once I got into my junior year, I was like, My favorite team means nothing. It’s about where I want to go. I certainly enjoyed going to UConn games, but I was a Michigan fan.
Hurley attended that championship game at Mohegan Sun just two days after the Huskies were upset by New Mexico State at Buffalo in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.
A few months later, Clingan arrived in Storrs after transforming his body and losing about 25 pounds to get to 265. He embraced his summer session matchups with Sanogo (6-9, 245).

“I tried to pull him back like I was backing away from high school kids, and I wasn’t going anywhere,” said Clingan. “It’s like trying to move a brick wall. Adama is the reason why I keep getting better. Fighting against him, one of the best great men in the land, is a privilege for me. It also helps him. He doesn’t see too many seven-footers. Practicing against someone who is 7-2 definitely helps.”
Clingan never lacked confidence, never felt uncomfortable.
“He’s a guy who wants to do it,” said Sanogo, a captain who is tough on new players and sparked immediate anticipation. “Many first-year students see things they don’t want to do when they come. They want to go home. Donovan was not that kind of person. It was impressive.”
It was a joy for Clingan and his father, Bill, who celebrates his son’s achievements on social media. Clingan’s mother, Stacey Porrini Clingan, is Bristol Central’s all-time best rebounder and a major reason why Donovan stayed in public school. She was also a standout player in Maine, telling Donovan about the joys of playing in the NCAA tournament long before her death in 2018. Her Maine team took the field three times, losing to a first-round game at UConn in 1995, her sophomore season.
“My dad means a lot to me,” said Clingan. “I know he gets Twitter happy sometimes and stuff. I just know he’s proud of me and he’s happy for me and he’s excited to see me here at UConn. It is clear that ever since my mother passed, he has always been there for me and supported every decision I wanted to make. That’s all I could wish for.”
Clingan went 5-for-7 from the field on Friday, including a monster dunk that came amid all the wiggle room in the world and a difficult finish off the glass in traffic as he absorbed contact. His nine rebounds were two shy of his career high and the most he has posted since 10 at Marquette Jan. 11. His 12 points are the most since his career high of 20, also with Marquette.
“One thing Coach said is it’s March, umpires aren’t going to look at every call,” said Clingan. “You have to play physically.”
Neither Clingan nor Sanogo were called for a foul against Iona. That has only happened once this season, on December 10 against LIU. Clingan replaced Sanogo early on and had eight points and eight rebounds at halftime. Sanogo regrouped and owned the second half, with 22 points and 10 boards.
“Trying to dominate and live up to what he does on the pitch is important for me to help my team win,” said Clingan. “If you have one center that is playing well and you bring in someone else who is not doing so well, the lead can go away.”
Clingan has been limping around for the past few weeks after receiving a blow to his lower body. There’s the black eye, the elbows in the face, the tooth damage. He is eager to go fishing. First, he wants to keep dancing.

Donovan Clingan an NCAA key for UConn men despite bumps, bruises

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