Sports Journalism Blog

By Kobe Mosley | @mosleymedia8

Sports Capital Journalism Program

GLENDALE, Ariz. – There are plenty of things about UConn star Donovan Clingan that make him seem like an average 20-year-old.

He is a jokester with his teammates, makes it a point to be first at everything — literally everything, according to teammate Andrew Hurley — and still has a bright future ahead of him.

The immense pressure sitting on top of Clingan’s broad shoulders, however, is something that most 20-year-olds — or a player of any age for that matter — never have to face.

The young Huskies center, born and bred in Storrs, Connecticut, is one win away from adding to his hometown hero legacy and giving UConn its sixth national championship in the last quarter century.

As if that is not enough to put on his plate, Clingan and number one overall seed UConn (36-3) will have to accomplish the feat by getting past an offensive wrecking crew in fellow one seed Purdue (34-4), led by 7-foot-4 Zach Edey.

The matchup between Clingan — who stands at an almost equally giant 7-foot-2 — and Edey, scheduled to tip off at 6:20 p.m. PT on Monday on TBS, will be the first time that two seven-footers have started on opposite sides of a national championship title bout since the storied matchup between Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984. Both Ewing and Olajuwon were inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Talk about pressure, huh?

Whatever nerves Clingan is or is not feeling, he has done a pretty good job at composing himself in a way that would almost make you question if he felt indifferent.

“I think he’s handled it great,” fellow Husky Stephon Castle said. “He’s been playing great, he’s humble, he works hard. I feel like he deserves all the attention he has been getting. And we got one more game and now I get to see how locked in he is.”

During last season’s championship run, Clingan maintained an important but secondary bench role, backing up future NBA players in Andre Jackson Jr. and Adama Sanogo, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Expectations coming into this season were that Clingan was going to need to take a leap for UConn to remain at the top, and he was ready for the challenge. He would produce early, averaging just under 14 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks over the first 12 games of the season.

When a foot injury cost him almost a month of play, Clingan knew that he would have to change a few things about his body and mindset for him to be the player he wanted to be and his team needed.

“Trying to cut down my weight, trying to expand my game a little more…I just realized that my team needed me out there,” Clingan said. “I just had to come back from that injury with a mindset that I was going to go out there and kill for the rest of the season.”

Clingan and UConn were dominant, as the Huskies went 21-1 after his return and enter the championship game as the number one offense in the nation according to KenPom.

The impact that Clingan brings to a game does not go unnoticed by his competition. Monday night’s opponent gave its respect to the defender and disrupter that he is on the court.

“He is a great player, that’s no surprise,” Edey said. “Everyone kind of knows what type of player he is on the defensive end, offensively he is pretty good too.”

Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter weighed in too, saying that Clingan is ”going to be a fabulous player, he’s got 15 to 20 years in front of him.”

When polling his UConn peers and coaches about what the sophomore center adds to the team, it has nothing to do with the type of player he is and everything to do with the kind of person he is.

“He’s somebody that if we had lived in the same town in Connecticut, me and him would have been best friends throughout everything (growing up),” Andrew Hurley said. “He’s just somebody that it’s so hard not to like him…his personality, his work ethic, everything. It’s hard to hate on the guy.”

UConn coach Dan Hurley agreed, saying that having players like Clingan positively “affects the team vibe” and it makes coaching better when his players like him are not “zombie-like creatures.”

“They bring life to the locker room,” Hurley said. “They’re people that you can lose with and still be able to pick up the pieces because they’re good people, they’re charismatic, and they’re just great in the locker room because it’s a grind.”

That grind will culminate with a level of basketball played by two big men that we haven’t seen in 40 years. Pressure, expectations, fears and all, Clingan and UConn are ready for the challenge.

“It’s going to be a great matchup,” he said. “Seeing two of the best teams in the past two years battling it off for a national championship — there is nothing better.”