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UConn 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan stands out from the bench

ALBANY, NY — Like many boys, Donovan Clingan was involved in many activities while growing up in Bristol, Conn.: baseball, basketball, fishing and soccer.

But when her mother, Stacey Porrini Clingan, died of breast cancer in March 2018 at the age of 42, Donovan, then 14, decided to channel her pain, passion and prodigious frame into basketball in his honor. 6-foot-4 center Porrini Clingan had played at Bristol Central High School before attending the University of Maine, where she helped the Black Bears to three consecutive NCAA tournaments beginning in 1995.

“I really didn’t take basketball seriously when she was here, I just played it for fun,” said Donovan Clingan, now a 7-foot-2, 265-pound 19-year-old freshman center. at UConn. in the locker room after the Huskies beat St. Mary’s on Sunday to advance to Thursday’s Western Regional semifinal against Arkansas in Las Vegas.

“When she passed away, I wanted a reason to make her proud and I wanted to make it through somehow,” he said. “So it was basketball.”

Porrini Clingan never got to see her son play basketball at his alma mater. But last season, he averaged 30.3 points, 18.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocks per game for an undefeated state championship team while helping put Bristol Central back on the map. He was twice Connecticut Player of the Year.

He now plays a crucial and dynamic role on the bench for the Huskies (27-8), who are aiming for their fifth national championship since 1999 and their first under their fifth-year coach, Dan Hurley. Clingan is averaging 7.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while overpowering opponents with dunks on offense and modifying and blocking shots on defense. In Connecticut’s first-round win over Iona, Clingan had 12 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in just 13 minutes. In the win over St. Mary’s, he had 4 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists in 12 minutes.

“I love it,” he said after the St. Mary’s game.

PJ Carlesimo, the former NBA coach and current television analyst, said Clingan would be an NBA draft pick whenever he decides to turn pro, possibly after his sophomore season.

“He changes the game every time he comes in,” Carlesimo said, adding that he expected Clingan to be “an impact pro.”

Porrini Clingan’s death left Clingan and his younger sister, Olivia, 17, without a mother, and their father, Bill, a single parent. Bill Clingan, a 6-6 bear of a man with an infectious smile, took on the responsibility of raising two children and balancing his son’s emerging basketball career with his own hectic work schedule as a supervisor. operations in an electricity company.

Bill Clingan said he and his son had to balance AAU summer basketball with recruiting trips, school and work, as well as taking care of Olivia, who was not traveling with them.

“He’s a mom and a dad to these two kids, and he’s doing a wonderful job with that,” said Tom Moore, an assistant coach at UConn, who started recruiting Donovan Clingan when he was a freshman. in high school.

When Donovan was born, he weighed 12 pounds and was 25 inches tall from head to toe.

“He was basically a toddler,” his father said.

Bill Clingan said he and his wife noted their son would grow in spurts, becoming chubby just before a growth spurt.

“He was gaining weight and then all of a sudden he was going up three inches,” he said.

Donovan Clingan was 6-8 years old in his freshman year of high school, and as he grew, his height caused the usual ribbing from his classmates.

“How tall are you? What’s the weather like up there?” they would ask.

When his recruiting started to heat up in the summer of 2021, his father took vacation days so he could take his son on official visits to Michigan, Ohio State, Syracuse and, eventually, UConn. Moore began recruiting Clingan in his first season, and Hurley quickly followed.

The coaches had never seen someone “so tall running so well, passing so well and with touch and shooting hands,” Moore said. “I remember Dan saying he was like a unicorn.”

His son, now an integral part of the UConn race, Bill Clingan, 53, has requested an additional vacation. He took the train for the first time in his life to New York for the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.

“I’ve always watched it on TV and now being totally invested in it with your son and all your family, it’s amazing,” he said.

Clingan is expected to play an even bigger role at UConn next season if the team’s junior great, Adama Sanogo — who has 52 points and 21 rebounds in his last two games — turns pro. Clingan hopes to show his skills more next year at NBA scouts by going out and shooting from range, like the 7-foot professionals do.

As for deciding when his son could turn professional, Bill Clingan said the most important factor was his maturity.

“I’m nervous about so much attention and money for an 18 or 19 year old,” he said. “And as a dad, I have to set him up for success because I want to make sure he’s mature enough to not only handle the money, but the pressure and all that he’s going to go through.”

Bill Clingan says he plans to move to be with his son when he turns professional, and hopes it’s warm.

Until then, Donovan will be able to give back to his father for everything he has done for him.

“I can’t imagine how difficult it is for him,” he said of his father, “but he did really well.

“And someday,” he added, “hopefully I can repay it with something nice.”

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