The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Bright future

NBA scouts like what they see when watching UConn’s Clingan

- By David Borges

Donovan Clingan, a friendly, unassuming young man who just happens to stand 7-foot-2 and play basketball really well, was already very popular around his hometown of Bristol.

His success as a UConn men’s basketball freshman has pushed that popularity off the charts. Tim Barrette, Clingan’s head coach at Bristol Central High the past four years, has noticed.

“No matter where you go, that’s what everyone wants to talk about — in town, out of town,” Barrette said. “When you go to a UConn game you see all these people wearing ‘Clingan’ shirts now. I’ve been amazed by the population in Bristol that has been attending games. I go to a game at XL Center and every five steps I take there’s somebody else from Bristol.”

Presumably, many of those Bristolian­s comprise the segment of fans that gives Clingan a loud ovation each time he enters a game in Hartford or Storrs.

“Everyone’s there to support him, they’re all super-proud,” Barrette continued. “The city couldn’t be happier that he stayed at home to play at UConn.”

But Clingan won’t always be playing so close to home. And local fans aren’t the only ones impressed by him as his name starts going nationwide. Representa­tives from “more than a handful” of NBA teams have already done character interviews on Clingan with Barrette. One or two seem particular­ly interested in the big man.

“We’ve been in contact with numerous teams that have him on their draft radar,” Barrette said, “whenever he makes his decision to come out.”

That decision is likely at least a year away. As terrific as Clingan has been for much of this season, he’s still only 18. He’s playing just 13.2 minutes per

game, and while his perminute averages in blocks and rebounds are off the charts, NBA teams would probably like to see how his numbers translate over 2530 minutes a contest.

“I think he needs a little bit more time to develop,” Barrette noted. “You don’t want to leave too early. He knows he needs more time. He’s got to develop.”

A pair of NBA Eastern Conference scouts generally agreed.

“He’s on everyone’s radar as a potential firstround pick,” one scout said. “I think he just needs another year or so.”

The other scout took things even a step further, comparing him to the 7-foot-4 center at Purdue who is almost a shooin for National Player of the Year.

“If he were to stick around at UConn and keep developing, I think he could be, in the near future, where Zach Edey is today,” the scout said. “I think he could be a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate.

“He could be even better than Zach Edey.”

As a freshman at Purdue, Edey averaged 8.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 14.7 minutes per game, almost exclusivel­y off the bench. Clingan is currently averaging 7.5 points, 6.1 boards and 1.8 blocks off the bench.

Last season, playing largely in the shadow (if that’s possible) of Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams, Edey averaged 14.4 points and 7.7 boards. This season, the 285-pound monster has been nearly unstoppabl­e, fifth in the nation in scoring (22.2 ppg) and second in rebounding (13.0).

Can Clingan put up similar numbers in the next year or two?

“I think he can be the best player on a really good tournament team, and be in National Player of the Year conversati­ons next year,” one scout said. “I think he could be an absolute household name

and a star in college basketball.”

First-round draft pick ... this year?

The two players that both scouts brought up when discussing Clingan were Edey and Walker Kessler, the 7-footer who averaged a nation-best 4.6 blocks per game last season as a sophomore at Auburn (despite getting burned for 30 points by Adama Sanogo in a double-overtime loss to UConn). Kessler, selected with the 22nd pick in last year’s NBA Draft, is in the midst of a strong rookie campaign with Utah.

Neither Edey nor Walker have expanded their shooting range and proven they can hit a 3pointer. They have relied on their great size and/or shot-blocking skills to flourish at a time when the traditiona­l, low-post center is largely a thing of the past — at least in the NBA.

“The NBA game has gone away from the dinosaur center that (Clingan) is — just a massive human being,” one scout pointed out. “But he’s skilled. He doesn’t get enough credit for how skilled he is. It’s not like he’s just bullying guys and backing them down. He’s got counters, he’s got touch, he’s got feel and instincts … He’s not one of those guys who scores just because he’s big. He’s a really big guy who’s also a really good basketball player.”

Added the other scout: “I don’t like many big guys that are like that, because you’ve got to figure out where they’re gonna play defensivel­y, they have to be in drop-coverage in pick-and-roll and all that. But I like Clingan, because I think he’s mobile, he’s versatile.”

At some point, Clingan (like Sanogo) will have to prove he can expand his scoring range. He has attempted just one 3-pointer this season and missed. But he shows good shooting form in pregame warm-ups and has worked on his outside shooting skills a lot over the past year.

“I think he has it in his

game and is going to surprise people in the future,” said one scout. “Eventually, he’s going to have to prove he can step out. He may not be like Chet Holmgren, but he can make shots.”

And so, would Donovan Clingan be selected if he entered his name in this year’s NBA Draft?

“I think he would get drafted,” said one scout. “Some team would take a flyer on him late, if he came out this year. Just because he’s been so dominant in the minutes he plays.”

That means “late,” as in the second round, where players don’t necessaril­y get guaranteed contracts. For a player to come out early, it behooves him to be selected in the first round.

Is that a possibilit­y for Clingan?

“There’s always a chance,” one scout said. “I think first round would be a bit of a stretch.”

The most likely candidate would be a developmen­tal-stage team with multiple first-round picks, like Indiana or Charlotte. Memphis is another possibilit­y.

Still, it’s hard to know if a team would be comfortabl­e giving Clingan all that guaranteed money. The risk of going in the second round (or undrafted) and likely living in the GLeague for a while may not offset the reward. Clingan and his family understand that.

“He does love college,” Barrette pointed out. “That’s the dilemma that’s going to eventually come when it is time. He’s going to have to leave a place that he really enjoys.”

Also, the early rumblings are that the 2024 draft may be weaker than this year’s.

It’s highly likely that Donovan Clingan tests the NBA Draft waters this spring. It’s equally as likely that he returns to Storrs for at least another season, when he could become a “household name” far beyond the borders of Bristol.

 ?? Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press ?? UConn's Donovan Clingan (32) blocks the shot of DePaul's Caleb Murphy on Jan. 31 in Chicago.
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press UConn's Donovan Clingan (32) blocks the shot of DePaul's Caleb Murphy on Jan. 31 in Chicago.
 ?? Rebecca S. Gratz/Associated Press ?? UConn's Donovan Clingan, left, plays against Creighton's Fredrick King on Saturday in Omaha, Neb.
Rebecca S. Gratz/Associated Press UConn's Donovan Clingan, left, plays against Creighton's Fredrick King on Saturday in Omaha, Neb.

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