The task was daunting, but that’s what a road to the Central Connecticut Conference boys basketball championship is supposed to be like.
The state’s best conference was split into four divisions for its 2021 postseason tournament, eight teams in each bracket. The top bracket was going to determine the champion. Half the field was ranked in the top 10 of the GameTimeCT poll. But only one was going to be champion.
It ended up being Bristol Central that made it through, winning its first league title since 2003. The Rams did it behind its leader, a 7-foot-1 junior whose numbers over the three tournament games were eye-popping.
Donovan Clingan finished with 101 points and 79 rebounds to lead Bristol Central to victories over then-No. 4 Windsor, No. 2 Northwest Catholic and No. 1 East Catholic. Those performances helped solidify Clingan as the GameTimeCT State Player of the Year.
“I was excited to play against some of the best teams in the state,” Clingan said. “The biggest thing was (his teammates) not getting mad about playing time. They were living with what they had. Kids on the bench who had played zero minutes in the final game were probably some of the happiest people after. I just feel like everyone bought in, wanted to win and wanted to be there with everyone else, which I felt like was the biggest part of our victory.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) March 27, 2021
Said Bristol Central coach Tim Barrette: “All I told the guys (during the season) was, ‘Win everything you possibly can, in every game, win the CCC tournament, win your division. That’s all you can take care of.’ … We had a list before the year. Not many teams check off every box you possibly could.”
Of course it was Clingan who scored the last basket off a pass from Victor Rosa, beating a triple team with 6 seconds left in overtime. “One thing I can tell you in the last huddle when we called timeout, Victor said six times in the huddle, “We have to get Donovan the ball inside, ‘“ Barrette said.
Bristol Central defeated East Catholic 69-68. It was the first time any team had won at East Catholic since Feb. 13, 2016 (East Hartford).
“East Catholic is East Catholic, they are just good every year,” Clingan said. “We fought hard, we knew we could win that game. We went tin there and slipped the lead a little, but got it back and came out with the victory.”
Among the impressed onlookers of Clingan’s performance (33 points, 26 rebounds, five assists) in the finale included ESPN Recruiting Analyst Adam Finkelstein.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) March 27, 2021
“I think Donovan is the most dominant player I’ve seen in the CIAC over the last 15 years,” Finkelstein said.
Clingan averaged 27.3 points, 17.2 rebounds, 5.8 blocks and 3.1 assists for the 13-0 Rams.
According to Clingan, the schools that have offered him a scholarship are: UConn, UMass, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgetown, Providence, Iowa, Syracuse, Rutgers, Notre Dame, Boston College, Yale, Maryland, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Iona and Wake Forest.
Clingan said what a coaching staff sees in him and the other recruits coming in will contribute to his college decision.
“I want to walk on campus and be like, ‘This is it, this is where I want to go,’” Clingan said.
Due to the COVID19 pandemic, Clingan has yet to step foot on campus for any visits. He hopes that will be able to happen soon.
“I feel like not being able to go look at a school is just holding off my decision,” Clingan said. “I haven’t toured one campus yet. … I feel I want to be committed before the start of my senior high school season and be able to go out and play my senior season not worrying about college and already having made my decision and (have my) head straight with one school.”
Clingan, who turned 17 in February, has told everyone who has asked that he intends to stay at Bristol Central. His mom, Stacey, starred at Bristol Central (1989-93) and holds the school’s rebounding record. She died of breast cancer in 2018. So it’s important for Donovan to fulfill and complete that family legacy.
Barrette said if there wasn’t going to be a high school season, then he would have had the discussion with Clingan about going to prep school.
“But no one was else was playing. His best chance was to stay here in the CIAC,” Barrette said.
Finkelstein feels Clingan doesn’t need to reclassify. He also feels Clingan can make plenty of improvements while staying at Bristol Central.
“If it is best for him and his family to stay where he is, there are plenty of areas he can improve in without making that change,” Finkelstein said.
“If he and his family were to come to the conclusion he would be much less happy at a prep school, then he probably would be much less productive. … He can still continue to get better by staying where he is. Is he going to have to adjust to the highest level of competition at some point? Without question. That could happen next year or two years from now. If he ends up playing the game for a long time, that process will repeat itself at multiple levels.”
Finkelstein feels Clingan has a “very soft, natural shooting touch and is an excellent passer for someone his age and size.”
“Mechanically, though, he needs to develop more muscle memory, especially at the free-throw line, where the ball tends to come off his hands in different, subtle ways on almost every attempt,” Finkelstein said.
The biggest thing for centers with the way the game is played now is defending away from the basket, Finkelstein said. Defending against the pick-and-roll, in what has become a guard-dominated game, is essential.
“Fifteen years ago, if you could defend in the post, that would have been adequate,” Finkelstein said. “Now, if you can’t move your feet away from the basket and have value on the perimeter on both ends of the floor, your upside is maybe more limited in the modern-day game. Mobility is a big factor for him long term.”
A lot of improvement for Clingan will come during this AAU season with the Team Sparatans out of Boston. Among the states Clingan will be playing games in includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida and Las Vegas.
Playing against competition across the nation will only make the Clingan get even better — a scary thought for whomever faces him during his senior year.
One important key in any prospect’s growth is his or her character — something that Clingan has plenty of.
“From Andre Drummond to Kris Dunn to Tremont Waters, every prospect this age has improvements they need to make and typically, the biggest indicator of that is their character. Donovan always comes across as a humble, high-character young man,” Finkelstein said.