BRISTOL - Winter sports teams across the state are coming to the end of a preseason unlike any they’ve experienced before.
Teams were given just three weeks to assemble and practice before the regular season begins this upcoming Monday, forcing them to condition, learn the playbook and learn all of the coronavirus mitigation strategies. Nonetheless, the student-athletes and coaches all accepted these additional challenges because of how important it is for them to play this season.
For Bristol Central junior Donovan Clingan, the start of this season will signify some return to normalcy as he can get back to playing competitive basketball on a regular basis. Following an AAU season the top-ranked recruit in the state said he probably had more practices than games and is ready to take the court with his friends and play for the school he proudly represents.
“I’m very excited, obviously, it feels good to be practicing right now and it’s good to be looking forward to a game,” Clingan said. “I’m just trying to stay as safe as possible, everything is crazy right now, so I’m just happy to have a season and be able to play.”
Currently listed at 7-foot-2 and 280 pounds, and just weeks from his 17th birthday, Clingan said he continues to get stronger with the ball in his hands, one of the most important skills a post player can have. He’s also happy with the progress on his jump shot as someone who enjoys shooting, but doesn’t have many opportunities to shoot from distance in game, understanding the importance of being able to stretch the floor more once he’s in college.
“I’m feeling good,” Clingan said. “I feel like I’m starting to get back into shape like how I was. AAU, we didn’t play as much as we wanted to, as much as we usually do so I wasn’t in the best shape, my full go. Now that high school [season] started, we’ve been practicing daily and running, I’m starting to feel like me on the court again.”
Clingan’s AAU season did give him opportunities to play with a mask on, which is required in Connecticut this season. While he might be a little more used to it than his teammates, playing with a mask is not something anyone is adjusting to easily.
“Once you’re sucking wind and you’re getting tired, it’s rough to breathe,” Clingan said. “You’re taking heavy, deep breaths and you’re just getting no air, you’re just getting a mouth full of mask, it’s bad. [But] I’ll wear three masks. I don’t care, I just want to play.”
The 47th ranked player in the Class of 2022 nationally by rivals.com, Clingan presently has 21 offers to choose from and plenty of time to bring in more. He said he wants to have a school chosen before the start of his senior season and added he is not willing to settle for a school that is not convinced is the right place for him.
Always confident in his abilities, he is not afraid of the pandemic interfering with his recruitment on the court, but he is starting to feel a little behind on the other side of the process.
“I’m comfortable where I stand, I feel like if there was no pandemic I’d have a better idea of schools [that I like],” Clingan said. “I haven’t been to a single campus or toured a single campus. I went to a couple of schools’ games before I got many more offers. I’m not going to pick a school I haven’t been to, I haven’t seen what it’s like, what it’s near.”
He is able to gather intel on schools another way, however, as he continues to build relationships with other recruits from his class.
Corey Floyd Jr., a recruit from the Class of 2022, who recently committed to UConn through a Sports Illustrated blog post said he wants Clingan to join him in Storrs, which is just one example of Clingan’s networking that spans as far as Emoni Bates, widely-regarded the class’ top recruit who already has committed to Michigan State, a school Clingan has an offer from.
“We just talk about how they feel about the school and share what they think about it and just talk about it,” Clingan said. “Personally, I want to go to a school where other talent is coming in around me and I’m not the only one. I look at that stuff, how other people think of the school, what they feel about it.”
Clingan’s ever-growing reputation has even put him in the conversation with professional basketball players. An Instagram account recently made a post comparing top high school recruits to NBA players, and Clingan was put next to Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. The post showed the two have very similar bodies in terms of height, weight and wingspan, which for Clingan was one of the highest honors.
“Personally, I’ve always watched Joel Embiid,” Clingan said. “He’s my size, we have a lot of things in common and I feel like we do a lot of similar things on the court. I’ve just always watched him and tried to learn from him. It’s cool to be compared to those people.”
Of course, Clingan will have to get back on the court first to show those unfamiliar with his game what he is capable of.
The last time the Central boys basketball team took the court was in a 37-point loss to East Catholic in the quarterfinals of the CCC tournament, but the team did not expect its season to be done yet.
After more than a week to let that blowout sink in, the Rams were set to take on Bunnell in the first round of the Division II state tournament March 10, which many will remember was the day the CIAC canceled the remainder of the winter season. With their unfinished business from last season and most of their core players returning, Clingan is ready for another successful campaign with the Rams.
“This year is going to show how much people care, how much of a team we actually are,” Clingan said. “If we play all 12 games I feel like we have a chance of not losing a single one, but that’s just how things play out and how badly kids on the team want it and if they want to win.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org