Bristol Central’s Donovan Clingan is back to dominating on the AAU circuit as college recruiting is set to ramp back up

Shawn McFarland, Hartford Courant
·4 min read

Just eight days after he sank a game-winning layup in overtime to topple East Catholic in the Central Connecticut Conference championship game and cap off a 15-0 season, Bristol Central junior Donovan Clingan was on the court once again.

This time it was for his AAU team — the Boston-based Team Spartans program. Like his junior season with his high school squad in which he averaged 27.3 points, 17.2 rebounds, 5.8 blocks and 3.1 assists, the 7-foot-1, 265-pound uber prospect was once again a wrecking ball in human form.

He scored 21 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and blocked six shots in a win over Rhode Island Elite on April 3. A week later, Clingan averaged 19.1 points, 16.0 rebounds, 6.2 blocks and 5.8 assists for the Spartans at the Hoop Group Spring Jam Fest in Pennsylvania. The team went 6-0. Clingan won MVP.

“It felt good — it felt like AAU basketball again,” Clingan said. “There were people watching the games, and it just felt good again. Just to be back out there playing six games in a weekend ... Monday morning was rough, I’ll tell you that much. But it was all worth it.”

The 17-year-old is a four-star prospect and on Wednesday was named the 44th overall recruit in the class of 2022 by ESPN. His AAU coach, Joe Chatman, said the only reason he isn’t in the top-20 is because he doesn’t attend a prep school, though Clingan doesn’t plan on leaving his hometown. He currently holds 19 Division I scholarship offers from schools like UConn, Michigan, Syracuse, Ohio State, Michigan State and Maryland. He’ll play against a host of nationally ranked teams and players this summer on the AAU circuit.

Chatman said the jump in Clingan’s play in the high school playoffs (he averaged 36 points and 26 rebounds in the CCC Tournament) is the biggest the junior has made yet. If that trajectory continues through the summer, Clingan could play himself into the conversation as the country’s best player.

“I think he can be the national player of the year next year in high school,” said Chatman. “I don’t think anybody has the resume that he’s put together in the last two years of high school ball. The way he’s growing, at Bristol Central next year, the guy could average 40 [points] and 20 [rebounds] in his sleep. He was putting up those numbers [in the playoffs] against the three best teams in the (conference). What could he do as a senior? A full season of weight training, a full season of playing against the best players in the country this summer, then you go back to high school, it gets a little easier.”

He felt his passing and shot-blocking improved this past high school season, and his tournament performances against Windsor (39 points, 26 rebounds and 10 blocks), Northwest Catholic (36 points and 27 rebounds) and East Catholic (33 points and 26 rebounds) left him feeling like he could play against anyone. East Catholic coach Luke Reilly described Clingan simply: “He’s a pro.”

Clingan wants to get quicker and more athletic this summer. He’s working on trailing 3-pointers, shooting off of screens and pick-and-pop jumpers. Chatman wants to see him shoot better than 75% from the free-throw line and 35% from deep.

“He’s the best back-to-the-basket center in the country,” Chatman said. “He’s the best passing center in the country. Defensively, you know his presence in terms of protecting the rim is second to none. The free throw percentage and 3-point percentage are the only two things, I know, the Power Fives and even NBA guys want to see him improve on.”

The NCAA announced last week that Division I could return to recruiting activities on June 1. Clingan will have the opportunity to showcase himself in front of college coaches on the AAU circuit once again. The Spartans will be in Pittsburgh this weekend for another Hoop Group tournament, and in Houston the week after for the MI3 Showcase invitational.

Clingan hopes to have a college decision made before his senior season, ideally September. He said he hasn’t yet finalized any list of top schools and hopes to take official visits this summer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s seen just UConn, Syracuse and Providence in person, and other campuses remotely.

“Once summer comes around, it will be nice to travel around and get out of Connecticut for the first time in a year,” Clingan said. “It’s going to be nice to be able to see all these schools. I’ve been talking to all these coaches, and they’ve showed me their schools over Zoom and stuff, but it just hasn’t been the same as seeing it in person.

“I’m excited for that. I’m just excited to play basketball.”

Shawn McFarland can be reached at smcfarland@courant.com.