Dom Amore: Donovan Clingan ready to leave CT, tackle the world of pro basketball (2024)

NEW YORK — From the start, Donovan Clingan has been one of our own. In Connecticut, he has become like family, as if the entire state formed the village around him.

“Connecticut has given me a lot my whole life,” Clingan said Tuesday, as he was surrounded by reporters at the five-star hotel headquarters of the NBA Draft. “It’s given me great opportunities, blessed me with the great career I’ve had so far, given me a lot of support and a lot of love, and I just want to be able to give back one day.”

When Clingan’s name is called Wednesday night, and indications are it won’t be a long wait once The Draft gets underway in Brooklyn at 8 p.m., folks back home can smile at one another, high-five, pat each other on the back for a job well done. Clingan, the 7-foot-2 center from Bristol, the two-time national champ at UConn, is Connecticut born, Connecticut made.

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And this is to be an exclusive graduation party — only the immediate state is invited.

Clingan, 20, could be the first native of Connecticut ever taken with the first pick in the draft. The Hawks, who pick No.1, are among the five teams to bring Clingan in for a workout during the pre-draft, coast-to-coast whirlwind tour.

Hartford’s Marcus Camby, taken No. 2 by Toronto in 1996, Bridgeport’s Charles Smith, No.3 to the 76ers in 1988, Kris Dunn from New London, No. 5 to the Timberwolves in 2016, Mike Gminski, from Monroe, No. 7 to the Nets in 1980, are the top Connecticut-born picks in the draft to date. All had notable careers in the league.

Clingan’s journey from here to there was a bit different. When he lost his mother, Stacey, to cancer in 2018, a city and eventually a state rallied around and took him into its heart. He didn’t go to a prep school, as players of his potential are usually advised to do, he stayed in Bristol, starred for Bristol Central High and aimed for his mother’s rebounding record. And he won a state championship there, and the state was thrilled for him.

He didn’t go to the Big Ten, or one of the other Blue Bloods, he stayed home, he went to UConn to help restore the Huskies to Blue Blood status. Clingan got standing ovations upon entering games from the beginning. Two seasons, two championships, two parades.

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He did it his way, in his place. He found everything he needed close to home, his father, Bill, and his family by his side. Life hit hard, the state had his back and Clingan gave Connecticut quite a ride in return.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “A lot people doubted me, said I wouldn’t accomplish things because I didn’t go elsewhere, I didn’t go to a different high school, I wasn’t going to get anything done at UConn, and it motivated me, made me want to be a better player, better person, keep growing, learning, wanting to be able to silence everyone.”

He silenced whatever critics there were. Clingan’s family, including his extended family between Greenwich and Putnam, has been loud and proud in his corner and aren’t going anywhere.

So now Connecticut’s own will leave the nest and take on the world. Could he be an Atlanta Hawk come Thursday morning? A Washington Wizard, Houston Rocket, San Antonio Spur or Detroit Piston? Could another team pull off a trade and take him?

How about the Spurs, who pick fourth and eighth, rather than trading up, taking both Clingan and his fellow Husky Stephon Castle, sitting at the next table on Tuesday?

“We really haven’t talked about it,” Clingan said. “But that’s something I feel like could be really dangerous. … Anything can happen in the next 24 hours and whatever comes my way, I’ll be extremely blessed.”

There is no reason to believe Clingan will not have a noteworthy career in the NBA, at the very least. He has the size and athletic ability, the passion for playing that not all big men have, a winning pedigree. There will be tough times ahead, high expectations, somewhere a big-market media and fan base skeptical of all this fuss made in Connecticut, that will expect instant results of its own, even if the team that drafts him will be picking in the lottery for a reason, that reason being it will need more than just Clingan.

But nothing the world outside of Connecticut can throw at him that will be any harder than the things Clingan has already had to handle.

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“It has been a surreal last few years,” Clingan said. “I’ve put a lot of work in to get to this point, and it’s a credit to the people who have helped me get to this point.”

The NBA Draft will find Clingan developed not only as a player, but as a person ready to attack a challenge. It is hard to imagine the 18-year-old D.C., or the 19-year-old version being as mature and ready for this as he is now. For that, Connecticut can point to neighboring New Jersey, to Dan Hurley, for the assist.

“UConn prepared me for everything,” Clingan said. “Just the way the coaching staff turned us into grown men, developed us as competitors, hard workers, the way they toughened us up, made us realize that what we’ve done is not enough, we’ve got to go for more. Can’t be satisfied with where we’ve been. That constant motor, wanting us to go. I’m grateful for everything UConn has done for me.”

It’s just a little different, this bond between Donovan Clingan and Connecticut, but it’s time to let go on both ends. No need to be sad it’s over, just be glad it happened. He is.

“I’m lucky enough, blessed enough to have opportunities to stay playing in Connecticut,” Clingan said, “but I’m ready to move away and start a new chapter. I’m grateful, I’m blessed … I’m just excited. I’m ready for the next step.”

Dom Amore: Donovan Clingan ready to leave CT, tackle the world of pro basketball (2024)
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