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    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    UConn’s Clingan shining positive light on his hometown of Bristol

    UConn center Donovan Clingan poses for a photo with Mayor Jeff Caggiano of Bristol during a meet-and-greet autograph session at Ray’s CARSTAR Auto Body and Glass in his hometown on Saturday. (Gavin Keefe/The Day).
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    UConn center Donovan Clingan signs an autograph for a fan during a meet-and-greet autograph session at Ray’s CARSTAR Auto Body and Glass in his hometown of Bristol on Saturday. (Gavin Keefe/The Day).
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    Bristol — While Donovan Clingan signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans on Saturday, Jeff Caggiano stood nearby and talked about the positive light that Bristol’s hometown hero is shining on the community.

    Caggiano, the mayor of this city and lifelong resident, has watched Clingan grow up, become a role model and continue to remain humble after winning a national championship with the UConn men’s basketball team last month.

    “You just see the sunshine in his eyes,” Caggiano said during the event at Ray’s CARSTAR Auto Body and Glass. “He’s a happy kid. I’ve said this and I’m actually stealing this from his principal, as good of a basketball player that he is, he’s a better kid.

    “He’s doing the right things. We’ve had a lot of athletes come through this town, some very good ones, but not kids that have quality and character like him.”

    Clingan is a popular guy these days not only in Bristol, where he starred at Bristol Central High School and continues to live, but also throughout the state.

    Like his UConn teammates, Clingan has made numerous appearances after raising the program’s fifth national championship trophy. He recently threw out the first pitch before the Bristol Central-Bristol Eastern baseball game at Muzzy Field.

    Saturday’s event at Ray’s was the latest one.

    “Donovan is incredible,” said Steve Merchant, one of the owners of Ray’s. “To be able to meet him in person is really something special. I know he means a lot to the city of Bristol. Born and raised in Bristol and playing all the sports that he did in grade school and through high school, it’s really neat. He’s a great, great kid.”

    Clingan sat at a table and greeted fans, some young ones looking as hesitant to approach the 7-foot-2 center as some of his opponents under the basket. He mentioned that he loves playing for coach Dan Hurley.

    He also answered some questions, including about how many years he plans to play at UConn.

    “I’m not sure,” Clingan responded. “One year at a time.”

    Several people had some sort of connection to Clingan or his family. Caggiano’s sister was Clingan’s physical education teacher at South Side School.

    It is important to Clingan to show his appreciation to the community.

    “I just want to give back to the city of Bristol and just show them that I appreciate their support and just thank them for everything,” Clingan said. “Just give them a chance to be able to see me and say hi. Just to see the smile on some of these kids’ faces means a lot to me.

    “Bristol means a lot to me. I’ve grown up here and I’ve stayed loyal and played in public school here in Bristol and they’ve always shown support for me.”

    Clingan certainly meant a lot to UConn during his freshman season.

    He earned All-Big East freshman team honors, averaging 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and a team-best 1.8 blocks in a productive 13.1 minutes per game while playing behind starter Adama Sanogo.

    With Sanogo departing after declaring for the NBA Draft last month, Clingan’s role will expand considerably. Clingan will move into the starting lineup and also assume a leadership role.

    Clingan and frontcourt teammate and roommate Alex Karaban will likely be the face of the UConn basketball program next season if Andre Jackson and Tristen Newton remain in the draft and decide not to return.

    “‘Coach talked to us and we have to make a big jump this summer and be able to lead this team and to try to compete for another national title,” Clingan said. “I’m ready for it. I’ve dreamed of this moment my whole life. I’m working hard enough to be able to pursue it. Hopefully, I’ll be one of the top guys on the team.

    “Just got to stay in the gym this summer. It takes a lot of leadership to be one of the best players. I’ve got to help build the team chemistry and all that stuff.”

    Clingan is enjoying a little bit of a break now that school is over and plans on doing some fishing. But he’s still regularly working out, sometimes in Bristol and other times at UConn. The Huskies will be back on campus for the first summer session in June.

    He wants to improve in a number of areas.

    “I want to work on ball handling and expanding my three ball,” Clingan said. “I’m trying to be dominant in the post and work on my post defense.”

    UConn will face a challenging schedule as well as a difficult task of trying to repeat as national champion.

    Clingan is looking forward to the Big East-Big 12 battle at Kansas on Dec. 1.

    Kansas is expected to preseason No. 1 and added Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, a 7-1 center.

    “I’m definitely excited,” Clingan said. “I’m definitely marking that game on my calendar. It’s going to be a good battle. They’re a good team.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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