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September 27, 2022
September 25, 2022
STORRS — Freshman UConn men’s basketball center Donovan Clingan is used to towering over people on the basketball court.
Being 7-foot-2 as a senior in high school had its perks.
But the Bristol native no longer has that luxury as he continues his transition from high school to college basketball.
“I’m getting used to playing against that level of competition,” Clingan said after the Huskies practice Thursday. “I know I’m not the best on the pitch. But I’m going to go out there and work hard and try to prove to everyone that I can play at this level.”
Clingan was a two-time Connecticut Gatorade Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year (2020-21, 2021-22) at Bristol Central High.
He averaged 29.9 points, 18.1 rebounds, 6.1 blocks and 3.1 assists per game as a senior and helped lead the Rams to a 28-0 record and championship. Division II status, their first in 32 years.
But it didn’t take long for Clingan to realize that size doesn’t mean an automatic advantage like it once did.
“The first day against Adama (Sanogo) was probably my breakthrough moment,” Clingan said. “Just because I’m playing against the best big in the country.”
Working with Sanogo, a Big East first-team player last year, day in and day out has only benefited Clingan.
“I feel like I learned so much just playing against him,” Clingan said. “Just because of the quality of his footwork when I play against him in defence. You never know when he’s going to shoot the ball because he pumps 20 fakes before he shoots it. So just doing that, learning to stay on the ground and be the second to take off. I learn a lot by keeping him and playing against him offensively.”
While Clingan said the hardest part of the transition from high school to college so far has been on the defensive side of the ball, he also noted that he appreciated not being quadruped on the offensive team like he was several times at Bristol Central.
“One-on-one is definitely a lot better,” he added with a smile.
But the reps against Sanogo during practice were only part of Clingan’s transition. He said he’s down to just 265 pounds, which is his goal weight, and is working on building more muscle ahead of the season.
“You just have to keep up the pace really,” Clingan said of how the weight loss has helped him. “That’s one of the biggest changes since high school: the pace of the game. So being lighter on the court makes me get up and down a little faster and makes me a little more explosive and quicker.”
Head Coach Dan Hurley gave credit for Clingan’s body transformation to Clingan himself.
“It’s not like he got here and lost 30 to 35 pounds and we can just take credit for that,” Hurley said. “He got into shape. He showed a lot of self-awareness, a lot of situational awareness about what he was coming into.
Clingan is excited to continue honing his skills in the final week of summer training and into the fall. But he knows being a Connecticut kid in a Huskies uniform comes with high expectations.
“I definitely feel like I got some pressure from the people of Connecticut,” Clingan said. “Like, ‘I better get it right because I’m from Connecticut and I’m going to Connecticut.’ “So I have to represent the school and present myself well. I’m trying not to let that pressure get in my head. I’m just going to go out there, play my game and do what I have to to win.
Regardless of the pressure he feels, Clingan’s goals haven’t changed.
“I just want to have the best impact possible,” he said. “Whether it’s five minutes per game, 15 minutes per game, 20 minutes per game, whatever. I mean I’m just going to go out there, play my game and do what I have to do to help my team win. C is the end goal of every game: to win.”
Although Hurley admitted that Clingan still has “a long way to go”, he is also excited about the future.
“He’s going to be a great, great player,” Hurley said. “He’s going to help this team a lot this year. He’s going to have a big impact.”
Hurley kept coming back to one player as he answered questions from the media after Thursday’s practice: second-year goaltender Jordan Hawkins.
“Jordan looks great,” Hurley said. “Jordan is looking really, really great right now.”
When asked what Hawkins’ recent performances really caught his eye, Hurley’s response was straightforward.
“Identity. He knows who he is as an attacking player,” he said. “He’s playing with his wonderful jump shot. He’s gotten noticeably stronger physically. He understands how hard you have to play every possession. He’s ready for a big, big year.”
Hawkins played 27 games as a rookie. He averaged 5.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game.
Hurley hopes Hawkins can play a much bigger role this season as the Huskies look to find new sources of goals – of UConn’s top five scorers last year, only Sanogo returns to the team in 2022-23 .
“We need him to make that second jump and be one of the best shooters in the country next year,” Hurley said of Hawkins. “That’s where we need him to be: a big threat. And he seems to be able to. He does it every day. »
The Huskies still have a week left in their summer training session, and Hurley intends to make the most of it.
“It picked up again this week,” he said of the intensity in training. “Today was tough. We try to do a lot of player development in the first few weeks. Let the guys acclimate to a very different way of doing things. It’s a very different environment than which most gamers are used to in terms of how difficult we go.
“So we are giving six weeks to that. Now, for the past two weeks, we’ve been sending a message about what it’s going to be like when we’re back here in late August through September.”
UConn’s summer training session ends Aug. 12. Players will then have two weeks off before returning to campus at the end of the month. The Huskies open their season Nov. 7 against Stonehill.
“Next week there will be four one-hour practices like we normally would in October,” Hurley said. “Summer playoffs are all about individual improvement. Now we move on to building our team and establishing roles and responsibilities, and hopefully playing at the championship level this year. .”
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