‘It means a lot to me’: UConn’s hometown kid, Donovan Clingan, shines on big stage

Seven minutes into the Big East championship game on Saturday night, the 19,812 in attendance at Madison Square Garden had a collective confused look on their faces at the tie score of 2-2. It was a sign of two top-10 teams that were playing a third game in as many days.

A night after the reigning national champion UConn Huskies beat St. John’s, 95-90, in a scoring showcase, this game was already shaping up to be quite the opposite. Somebody had to step up and be a difference maker.

This was the moment Donovan Clingan had been waiting for – the reason the 7-foot-2, 280-pound big man chose to stay home and play at Connecticut, a year removed from sacrificing minutes in favor of eventual Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo. 

On Saturday night, Clingan proved once again that he gives UConn the DNA to repeat as national champions for the first time since Billy Donovan’s Florida teams in 2006 and 2007. 

The sophomore center out of Bristol, Connetciut, wasn’t just the difference in the Huskies’ 73-57 win over Marquette, but he managed to make history in the process. Clingan became the first player to post a 20-point, 15-rebound performance in a Big East championship game since Patrick Ewing achieved the feat back in 1984. Clingan’s final stat line included a game-high 22 points and 16 boards on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor.

“To put the Connecticut jersey on and be able to represent the state of Connecticut means a lot to me,” Clingan said. “I’ve grown up in Connecticut my whole life. And watching UConn play, and to be able to be a part of history and be a part of something special like we’ve done last year and this year, it means a lot to me.” 

Clingan, a Bristol Central High School graduate who ranks seventh in Connecticut high school basketball history with 2,268 points, added to his basketball legacy, which already featured a state title in his senior year of high school and last year’s national championship as a Husky freshman. 

Hurley referred to Clingan as the “jolly green giant” earlier this week, saying he’s one of the most selfless players he’s ever coached. On Saturday night, Clingan took control of the game and added to his dominance over the Golden Eagles. In three wins over Marquette this year, the UConn center combined for 48 points and 38 rebounds. 

Tristen Newton throws a GORGEOUS no-look dime to Donovan Clingan in UConn’s 73-57 victory over Marquette

Tristen Newton throws a GORGEOUS no-look dime to Donovan Clingan in UConn's 73-57 victory over Marquette

“He would have been a top-20 pick in last year’s draft and accepted playing behind Adama [Sanogo] and embraced that, and is just an incredible person,” Hurley said. “Most players in his situation in the college game today, the agent would have been calling, the dad would have been calling, he would have been boycotting practice and being pissy. But he’s a great, great guy. 

“Obviously, he’s going to be a lottery pick coming up here in the very near future, but he never makes it about himself. He’s just about the team. He’s got an incredible personality. He’s one of the two or three most impactful players in college basketball. If your eyes don’t … if you don’t see that with your eyes, then look at the analytics.” 

Clingan’s personality comes from his father, Bill, and mother, Stacey, one of the greatest players to ever play at the University of Maine. Sadly, Stacey passed away from breast cancer at the age of 42 in 2018. That is why Clingan wears No. 32, the number his mom wore, and it’s a big reason why he’s stayed so close to home, to be near his family and friends and produce moments like he did on Saturday night inside Madison Square Garden. 

“Wearing Connecticut across my chest every day means the world to me,” Clingan told FOX Sports. “To have my name associated with Ewing? One of the greatest players to ever play the game and a legend. That does mean a lot. But I try not to let that stuff really get to my head.” 

‘I just had to go out there and dominate’ — Donovan Clingan on UConn winning the Big East Tournament championship

'I just had to go out there and dominate' — Donovan Clingan on UConn winning the Big East Tournament championship

As for the rest of the Huskies, Tristen Newton capped off his Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player run with 13 points and 10 assists. He became only the second player in Big East history to hit the 10-assist mark in the conference championship game, joining Syracuse legend Pearl Washington’s 14 dishes in 1986. 

Even when this UConn team is a little bit off, like they were at times on Saturday, they are still the most complete team in the nation, and could be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament with Purdue losing in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. 

“We’ve been the best team in college basketball,” Hurley said. “Obviously, March Madness next week, who knows what goes on there, but we’ve clearly been the best program in the country this year.

“There’s just not a lot of holes in the way that we we play. We’ve got great offense [No. 1 in KenPom]. We’re an elite defensive team [No. 11 in KenPom]. We play so hard. We’re deep, and we’re deep with NBA players that are unselfish and about winning. It’s been just a special, special season to this point.” 

When Clingan is at his best, there is no doubt UConn can win it all again. The Huskies showed that Saturday night in Manhattan, adding another highlight to this special journey, this time in the form of a Big East championship, the first since Cardiac Kemba, Jim Calhoun & co. did it in 2011.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him at @John_Fanta.

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