Dom Amore: East Catholic’s Joey Reilly finding his college voice at Sacred Heart, Donovan Clingan’s grand entrance at UConn, and lots more for your Sunday Read

At East Catholic High in Manchester, where he scored 1,828 points and won 104 of 111 games, Joey Reilly’s career had lots of ups, not much in the way of downs. That hasn’t been the case for him in college basketball.

“I’ve really just put in work behind the scenes,” said Reilly, in his second season at Sacred Heart. “A big part of it is just adjusting to the college game, going through different experiences. Coming from a super-successful high school career, then going into a situation where I didn’t play a lot at Holy Cross, there were new mental challenges, so overcoming that, being comfortable from a confidence standpoint.”

Reilly, a 6-foot scoring guard, played in 20 games, averaging nine minutes across two years at Holy Cross, but since coming back to his home state he has found his voice at Sacred Heart. He scored 23 in the season opener, a 77-70 win at UHart, this week, going 9-for-12 from the field, including 5-for-7 on threes. But then was held to five points as the Pioneers played above their weight class at Rutgers, an 88-50 loss that will serve as a building-block experience for a team with designs on competing for the Northeast Conference championship.

“I really like our team this year, we have some high expectations,” Reilly said. “I’m happy I’m in a position now where I can help my team win.”

High expectations come with the family name. The Basketball Reillys include Joey’s uncle, Luke, who coached him at East Catholic, and his father, Joe, who coaches Wesleyan. His grandfather, Joe Reilly Sr., coached them both at South Catholic, where Luke and Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina were high school teammates and became inseparable friends. Latina is Godfather to Joey’s brother.

So transferring to play for Latina, who had recruited him originally, was a natural but playing time wouldn’t just be given.

“He knew when he came here he was going to have to earn his minutes,” Latina said. “And he’s doing it.”

Last year, Joey Reilly played in 29 games, started five, averaged 17.8 minutes and 4.7 points.

“Joey went to Holy Cross and it wasn’t a great situation for him for whatever reason,” Latina said. “But it was a great situation in that he learned a lot and really improved there, even if he wasn’t getting the minutes. I give Holy Cross a lot of credit, I think they prepared him for success to come here and he’s been really good for us. He’s had moments, last year was a little up and down, but it was his first year with us and his first year playing a lot of minutes. He’s a lot more comfortable on the court and a lot more comfortable in our program as far as having a more vocal role.”

That was Latina’s emphasis in the offseason as Sacred Heart, coming off a 10-20 season, brought back a lot of players and took in some more transfers, a cast that includes Raheem Solomon from Hartford and Aiden Carpenter from Hamden. The Pioneers werepicked second in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll. But Latina was looking for leadership. When Carpenter, who scored 15 points in the first 17 minutes at Hartford, went out with an injury, Reilly took over the scoring load.

“Obviously when you make shots, people talk about you,” Latina said. “But if the only way you’re going to play is making shots, then there are certain games you’re not going to play. How else can you help us? And he’s really done a good job of being a vocal leader, not offensively running the team, but talking. I said, ‘Now you can play whether your making shots or not,’ and he’s really embraced that. A really mature kid.”

The leadership piece has come along slowly but steadily.

“That’s definitely been a big part of my development,” Reilly said. “It just comes with being an upperclassman. It seems like just yesterday I was a freshman in college, but now I’m looking around and I’m a senior. Diversity of experience, being at Holy Cross, being here, being on different teams with different dynamics, gives me a unique experience to share with my teammates. I’m with guys that are willing to listen.”

Now when Reilly experiences the ups and downs of college basketball, he can often call on his former high school teammates, guys like Mike McGuirl, who played at Kansas State and is now a pro in Denmark, Andrew Hurley, who is playing as a walk-on for his father at UConn, Matt Knowling, who is starring at Yale, and Jaylin Hunter, now at Ohio.

“I keep in touch with all those guys,” Reilly said. “Anyone that plays college basketball will tell you, it’s a roller coaster. It’s a long season, you’re going to have highs, going to have lows, so talking to each other through tough times and trying to give each other a different perspective is great, and also, it’s really fun to cheer each other on.”

More for your Sunday read:

Clingan’s smashing debut

Big men are usually projects so to see Donovan Clingan make a smashing debut for the UConn men’s basketball team this week. productive and not in foul trouble during his first two college games, was a good sign, even against mid-major opponents. Clingan, 7-2 from Bristol, came in to a rousing ovation at the XL Center on Monday night.

“I didn’t know if Ray [Allen] or Rip [Hamilton] was at the game, or if Coach [Jim] Calhoun was here and they just announced him,” coach Dan Hurley said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s got an amazing vibe about him. Over the course of his career here, as he becomes a bigger and bigger part of what we’re doing, it’s going to become a very special relationship between him and the people of Connecticut.”

Clingan had nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks against Stonehill in the opener, and followed up with 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 12 minutes against Boston University on Friday.

Sunday short takes

* Did you notice Steph Curry, after scoring 40 points Friday, was featuring Azzi Fudd’s No. 35 UConn jersey during his postgame presser. Fudd helped design some of Curry’s footwear.

* Windsor High’s Primo Spears, a 6-3 guard who transferred from Duquesne to Georgetown, debuted for the Hoyas with 28 points, six rebounds and four assists in a win over Coppin State, then had 21 points, five assists and three rebounds in a win Saturday over Green Bay Phoenix. UConn will be seeing Spears, and Akok Akok, who debuted with 18 points and 12 rebounds, when Georgetown comes to Gampel on Dec. 20.

* John Gallagher’s eve-of-the-season departure from UHart shouldn’t keep him from landing his next coaching job. It’s well known what a circus that situation had become. By the way, the team he left behind is pretty good.

* The Glastonbury-based Oakwood Soccer Club’s girls team, national academy champs in the 17-and-under competition last summer, will celebrate their title Nov. 18. Congrats are in order for coach Chris Mogavero and 17 players from nine Connecticut towns.

* Paul Maurice, the last coach of the Whalers, now with Florida, is still racking up the wins in the NHL, reaching No 703 this week, sixth in league history.

* UConn’s Adama Sanogo had a chance to meet an idol of his, Huskies legend Emeka Okafor, in September and they’ve stayed in touch. “He’s fiery, he’s aware of his position,” Okafor said last week. “He wants to lead and understands this is his time. I think he’s more than capable. I think he’s going to have a great season.”

* So six days after winning the World Series, the Astros declined to extend and fired GM James Click? In MLB it’s sometimes not enough to win, you have to win their way. Ask Dave Dombrowski.

Last word

Happy Odd Couple Day, for those who observe. Sunday is Nov. 13, the day Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence, a request, according to multiple sources, that came from his wife. It’s our annual reminder that Jack Klugman’s portrayal of Oscar Madison was the best-ever depiction of a sportswriter on TV. Everybody loved Raymond, but Ray Romano-Barone never left the house.

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com