Clingan has exceeded expectations in his freshman year with Huskies
In some ways, UConn’s Donovan Clingan is a typical college freshman.
“He surprises me every day,” said Bill Clingan, Donovan’s father. “Sometimes, he’s so mature. Sometimes, he’s a goofball. He’s a really fun kid.”
But Clingan is far from a typical freshman on the basketball court.
A towering 7-foot-2 center, Clingan has exceeded expectations this season. He has become a key player for the Huskies, who defeated Saint Mary’s 7055 in Sunday’s NCAA tournament West Region second round game to advance to the Sweet 16 against Arkansas on Thursday in Las Vegas.
As a reserve, Clingan entered Sunday averaging 7.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and a team-best 1.8 blocks in a productive 13.1 minutes per game. He earned All-Big East freshman team honors.
“I knew he was capable and I knew he could do it,” Bill said. “I just didn’t know it would be this quick. I think he took a lot of people by surprise.” Including Donovan himself.
“I feel like I surprised myself a little bit,” said Clingan, the former Bristol Central High School star. “I didn’t think I’d be as physical and as strong as I am now. That’s from all the work I put in.”
Clingan’s tireless work ethic set him up for success.
Starting during his early days at Bristol Central, Donovan showed up for workouts before school at 5:30 a.m.
“He’s worked really, really hard from the time he was a freshman in high school,” Bill said. “He wants it.”
Clingan showed up in Storrs for the first summer basketball session in great shape after losing about 25 pounds.
His game gradually took off from there.
He benefited from practicing against All-Big East first team teammate Adama Sanogo. They’ve provided a powerful one-two punch at the center spot.
“I think what’s really helped his development, from June 1 he’s had to play against Adama every single day,” coach Dan Hurley said. “We knew he was going to have an impact. We didn’t know he’d be this dominant, though, at times.”
Clingan has looked comfortable playing on the pressure-packed NCAA tournament stage for the first time. He had 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes in Friday’s 87-63 first round win over Iona.
With Sanogo dominating for the second straight game on Sunday, Clingan saw limited action against Saint Mary’s but still contributed four points, five rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 12 minutes.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,”
Clingan said of experiencing his first March Madness. “I remember as a little kid watching UConn play and advancing in the tournament and just dreamed of being there one day.”
While Clingan has settled into the tournament routine, his father is a bundle of nerves prior to games.
“I have a lot of anxiety when the game starts,” Bill said. “I’m worried for him and I’m worried for the team because I know all the guys. I talk to them a lot. And they’re all just really great kids.”
Bill has been there for his son every giant step along his basketball journey.
They’ve grown even closer since Stacey Clingan died of breast cancer in 2018. As a tribute to his mother, Donovan has the same uniform number (32) that she wore during her playing days at the University of Maine.
On Sunday, Bill was in the MVP Arena stands again along with his daughter Olivia and extended family members and friends.
“My dad means a lot to me,” Donovan said. “I know sometimes he gets Twitter happy and stuff. But I just know he’s proud of me and he’s happy for me and he loves seeing me here at UConn. Ever since my mom passed, he’s always been there for me and supportive of whatever decision that I wanted to make. That’s all I could ask.”