UConn-bound Donovan Clingan stays home, achieves goals in Player of Year season

UConn-bound Donovan Clingan of Bristol Central is the GameTimeCT State Player of the year for the second straight season.

UConn-bound Donovan Clingan of Bristol Central is the GameTimeCT State Player of the year for the second straight season.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

You don’t always get the storybook ending: win the final game of your final season for a state championship. There are too many variables that can sidetrack the dream.

Bristol Central’s Donovan Clingan was determined to have as normal a high school basketball career as possible: play for the school in your town with the classmates you grew up with. But when you are nearly 7 feet, 2 inches tall, your life is anything but normal.

Division I schools came calling. Prep schools called him, called his dad, called his high school coach, hoping he would come, reclassify and dominate against better competition. Each time, Clingan said no.

The end result was what Clingan dreamed of: bringing Bristol Central its first state championship in more than three decades. More importantly, he honored a commitment to his mother.

“I feel like I did it for my own reasons, my main purpose was to make my mom proud,” said Clingan, the GameTimeCT State Player of the year for the second straight season. “I feel like the biggest thing was loyalty. (Bristol Central) Coach (Tim) Barrette was always loyal to me. … I’m big on family loyalty.”

Stacey Porrini Clingan died of breast cancer in 2018, when Donovan was in the eighth grade. He promised her he would stay at Bristol Central. By his own account, he would eventually turn down between 20 and 30 prep schools from around the country.

“Part of it (staying) was getting the early offers from Syracuse and UConn (where he signed a National Letter of Intent last fall),” Barrette said. “Most college staffs were supportive of him staying at Bristol Central. … One of the major things that worked with me and his family, and his dad specifically, was that we were open with each other. I knew about the offers and we were able to discuss things. The only way this works at public school is you have to have a very good line of communication.”

Barrette said Clingan is like family, as all of the kids in the program have been. He admittedly said he spent more time with those kids during the basketball season than his own son, six-year-old Andrew, and his wife.

Barrette said Clingan missed just one practice over his four seasons. It was a unique four seasons to be sure.

Two seasons were held without a CIAC state tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last season, the Rams went 15-0, winning the CCC championship, beating East Catholic on the road and finishing No. 1 in that final poll.

Then came the expectations of being No. 1 from the start of the season. Clingan never flinched. He averaged 30.1 points, 18.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocked shots per game. He finished his career with 2,268 points, good enough for seventh on the all-time CIAC list. The list of players he passed on that list in the latter stages of this season is a who’s-who of some of the great players in state history.

Bristol Central had to survive an overtime scare against Wilton in the Division II state semifinals before beating Northwest Catholic for a second time in the state final at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

“It really took a couple days to hit me that we won and how big it was,” Clingan said. “I did everything I wanted to do. I’m extremely blessed.”

Clingan hugged all of his coaches and teammates on the bench as he came off the floor for the final time as a Bristol Central Ram. Barrette said both he and Clingan, one day before school a couple of years ago (Barrette is a science teacher), both wrote down all of their goals they wished to accomplish, both team-wise and individually.

Despite the pandemic, both men were able to achieve all of the goals that were attainable.

“There are mixed emotions. I’m sad that I will never be able to coach him at this level again,” Barrette said. “That last hug was, ‘We can tear up the lists, We did it all.’ We did everything we could accomplish.”

Clingan has never been one who slept much and never has been one who likes doing nothing. He is not playing AAU this spring, but he did choose to play in three all-star games: the CHSCA Boys Basketball Festival, the Robert Saulsbury All-Star Game and the JCC Schoolboy/Schoolgirl Classic.

Clingan was the MVP of both the CHSCA and Saulsbury games, The JCC was moved from the Sheehan Center in Bridgeport to St. Joseph in Trumbull to accommodate what is expected to be a big crowd.

Less than 48 hours after the pinnacle moment of his high school career, there Clingan was, having started the workout UConn gave him to get ready for the Big East Conference. Clingan said he will report to Storrs right after he graduates high school.

“I’m working on getting more explosive and stronger from the hips down and my upper body,” Clingan said. “I’m lifting at 530 in the morning. That’s me, I don’t sleep much. Since I was a little kid, I was up at 6 a.m. looking to do something. On weekends, I sleep in until 8 a.m. if I’m lucky.”

UConn coach Danny Hurley said the strength and conditioning program that the school’s strength and conditioning coach, Gavin Roberts, provided Clingan “has got to get him right in terms of getting him in great shape, so that he can move well enough for him to add to our frontcourt. We’ve got a great frontcourt. Being able to add him to that great frontcourt, where he can give us some really, really good impact minutes next year is exciting.”

Hurley sat courtside for Clingan’s final game at Mohegan. He loves a lot of the things that made Clingan the two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year. among his many accolades.

“He’s a giant. I love his skill level, love his hands, love his feel. I love his passing, his touch. I love the way he shoots the ball. I love the fact that he’s alive during the game, too,” Hurley said. “He plays with personality, he’s a talker, he’s competitive. He wants to be out there, desperately, in the arena. He doesn’t play because he’s tall. He belongs out there.”

How will Clingan fare in Hurley’s system? In the Big East Conference? That remains to be seen, but Clingan looks forward to the challenge.

“I don’t want anything handed to me. I want to earn what I work for,” Clingan said. “I want Coach Hurley to push me to be the best player I can be on and off the court. I know he will. I have a lot of faith in him. I’m going to try not to set the bar too high. My goal is to go in there this summer and get better every single day.”

Clingan, who turned 18 in February, plans to major in sports management. He hopes to one day either coach or run his own AAU program.

The next destination is Storrs: another step in the direction of what Clingan hopes will be a pro career in the sport.

“Next on my checklist is to graduate college. After college is the pros. One step at a time,” Clingan said.

joseph.morelli

@hearstmediact.com; @nhrJoeMorelli.

Staff writer Dave Borges contributed to this story.