HARTFORD – Dan Hurley knew that sound before. It was a roar the UConn fan base usually reserves for the program’s royalty.
During Monday’s season-opener, that special type of ovation, though, was for someone who had never played a minute for the Huskies. With 13:43 left in the first half, Bristol’s Donovan Clingan checked in for the first action of his career. The crowd of 9,116 at the XL Center then went wild for the 7-foot-2 center.
“I didn’t know if Ray (Allen) or Rip (Hamilton) was at the game, of if coach (Jim) Calhoun was here and they announced him and he stood up,” Hurley said. “I was shocked. Over the course of his career here, as he becomes a bigger and bigger part of what we do, it’s going to be a very special relationship between him and the people of Connecticut.”
Amongst those in the crowd were a large contingent of fans from Bristol, including a big group from the Boys and Girls Club wearing “Clingan 32” shirts, as well as his high school coach, Bristol Central’s Tim Barrette.
Most notably, Clingan was an important contributor in UConn’s 85-54 win over Stonehill College.
In fact, he wasted no time establishing himself. After committing an offensive foul, he grabbed a rebound on his first defensive possession, then promptly blocked a shot during Stonehill’s next time down the floor. He then saved the ball from going out-of-bounds and flipped a pass over his head to Tristen Newton, who got fouled and made both free throws.
Later in the half, he recorded the first dunk of his career off a pass from Hassan Diarra on a fast break. It was an impactful first impression by Clingan, who finished with nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 18 minutes of play. In the stands, on Twitter, and on the UConn bench, the excitement level for Clingan’s arrival is through the roof.
“You just don’t realize how big that guy is until you see him,” Hurley said of the freshman, who was not made available to speak with the media after the game. “He was super active and you really got to see what he is going to be someday.”
“Clingan was really tough, a real workhorse,” noted Stonehill forward Andrew Sims. “He’s one of the most difficult dudes I’ve ever guarded.”
Adama Sanogo, UConn’s starting center, dominated offensively, scoring 19 points in 19 minutes. In a guard-oriented sport, the Huskies are going to have a distinct advantage in the paint.
“With those two guys at the five, then with the variety of things Alex (Karaban) and Samson (Johnson) can potentially give you at the four, those two positions are going to create great opportunities for the perimeter people,” Hurley said.
UConn lost Jordan Hawkins nine minutes in after he hit his head on the court while trying to get a rebound. The Huskies also played without their best defensive player in guard Andre Jackson (broken pinky). Hurley, however, wasn’t thrilled with the overall performance, especially their outside shooting with the team missing 19 of 24 threes.
“It was expected. Opening night, a lot of new people and with Jordan going out, it put us in a position with a totally new group except for Adama,” Hurley said. “I did think we played really, really hard defensively.”
The Huskies have a pretty light schedule to start, with this among five home games against lighter competition. Then it’s off to Portland for the Phil Knight Invitational Thanksgiving week.
Hurley is hoping for this newer roster to mesh before the schedule gets tough. Karaban (13 points) and Hassan Diarra (11 points) showed why they are being counted on to play significant roles.
But no newcomer made a larger, and louder, impact than Clingan. Don’t be surprised to hear a similar reaction Friday night when he makes his Gampel Pavilion debut against Boston University.