Ava’s Angle: How Donovan Clingan makes the difference for the National Champion Huskies

UConn’s Donovan Clingan smiles ear to ear as he enjoys the atmosphere at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas after the Huskies defeat San Diego State 76-59 in the NCAA National Championship game on April 3, 2023. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk/The Daily Campus.

From winning the state championship with Bristol Central in his senior year of high school to becoming a 2022-23 national champion with UConn, Donovan Clingan is a known winner and a freshman sensation for the Huskies. 

On July 2, 2021, Clingan announced his commitment to UConn to continue his academic and athletic career. He came in as a four-star recruit and was ranked the No. 56 prospect overall in the 2022 class. The 7-foot-2 center is a Connectucut native who has captured the hearts of people in the state, especially after bringing home UConn’s fifth national title. However, Clingan got his start at Bristol Central High School. 

On March 19, 2022, Clingan led Bristol Central to a 56-36 win over Northwest Catholic to earn the Division II state title. In the team’s 43rd consecutive victory, he scored 25 points and added 24 rebounds to bring home the first state championship to Bristol Central since 1990. Exactly one year later, Clingan competed for a national championship with UConn and the road ended with a ring. 

“It means a lot to me to be able to translate from winning a state championship in high school to competing for a national championship,” said Clingan after the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 win over Iona. “I couldn’t be more grateful and I love the opportunity that UConn has given me.” 

Coming into the season, Coach Dan Hurley and the coaching staff for the Huskies knew that Clingan would be special but did not realize the sheer impact he would have on the team in his freshman year. 

“We knew we were going to have an impact from him, we didn’t know he’d be this dominant though, at times,” said Coach Hurley prior to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 matchup against Saint Mary’s. 

A huge factor that has helped Clingan develop into the player that he is today is the mentorship from junior center Adama Sanogo. Entering his freshman year, Clingan knew that he was joining a UConn team that already had their starting center locked with Sanogo, who was named Preseason Big East Player of the Year. However, Clingan took this opportunity of having an experienced center that he shares traits with and turned it into an advantage to improve his own game. 

“Adama has developed me into a better player,” said Clingan. “Competing against him every day in practice has helped me a lot. Seeing what he does out there, you know, just helps me realize what’s going well for him and can help me translate to my game and help me improve.” 

“I think what’s really helped his [Clingan’s] development, to be honest with you, is just from June 1st, he’s had to play against Adama every single day from that point to this point,” said Coach Hurley. 

UConn basketball’s Donovan Clingan towers over a San Diego State player during the NCAA National Championship game on April 3, 2023 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk/The Daily Campus.

Specifically in the NCAA Tournament, Clingan did not play big minutes but when he was on the court, he made the impact that the Huskies needed to continue their dominance and defeat every team they faced by double digits. His defensive destruction added dimension to UConn which separated from their opponents in the tournament. Changing the outlook of the team, there was rarely a weak moment between the defense of Clingan and Sanogo which allowed the backcourt to be able to take more 3-point chances as they had large protection under the rim. 

Appearing in 39 games for the Huskies in his freshman season, Clingan averaged 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 13.1 minutes per game. He posted four double-doubles on the season and had his career-high performance when it counted in UConn’s 87-63 Round of 64 win over Iona. In the first game of the March Madness Tournament, he scored 12 points with nine rebounds and two blocks. Although Clingan only played 10 minutes in the national championship game against San Diego State, he was effective with his time, producing four points, three rebounds, two steals, one block and one assist. 

Although he did not get the most minutes on the team, Clingan always put up numbers when he was on the floor. He was ranked eighth on the team in minutes per game last season yet, he led the team in blocks, was third in rebounds and fifth in scoring. 

“He’s got unbelievable feel and hands, he’s a heck of a competitor. So you saw those tools and he’s got a great feel for the game,” said Coach Hurley

Last week, sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins, who was the Huskies No. 2 leading scorer, announced that he is declaring for the 2023 NBA Draft. The No. 1 leading scorer for UConn, Sanogo, has yet to announce his decision whether he will also declare for the 2023 NBA Draft or return to Storrs for another year. If Sanogo decides to leave, it would boost Clingan into a larger role to be one of UConn’s top producers for next season. 

Just a few days ago, Clingan officially announced on Instagram that he will be returning for the 2023-2024 season for the Huskies instead of declaring for the 2023 NBA Draft. Jeff Goodman of Stadium tweeted out that Clingan spoke to NBA general managers and executives which projected him to be selected in the range of the No. 25 and 40 overall picks in the 2023 NBA draft if he decided he declared. Now that he will remain a Husky for at least another season, it will keep Clingan in the mix of UConn’s team already filled with depth plus the additions of their upcoming top five recruiting class; Stephon Castle, Jayden Ross, Solomon Ball, Jaylin Stewart and Youssouf Singare. Clingan is a passionate player and ready to chase after what would be UConn’s sixth national title. 

In his first year of college basketball, Clingan has been instrumental to UConn’s success and it’s just the beginning for him as he just celebrated his 19th birthday in February. In the NCAA  Tournament, Clingan made the difference and allowed no team to get past the Huskies with his persistent defense, helping UConn to get all the way to cutting the net in Houston for their fifth national championship. 

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