STORRS — Donovan Clingan’s return to the practice floor about a week ago has brought rave reviews from his UConn men’s basketball teammates.
“He’s looking great,” said grad guard Tristen Newton. “He looks like he never got hurt. He’s out there moving, jumping higher than ever, moving well. It’ll be exciting to get him out there and see what he can do.”
Sophomore forward Alex Karaban was equally effusive in his praise for his roommate, who missed about a month of practices due to a right foot sprain. Dan Hurley was a little more guarded.
“Physically, he’s looked great,” Hurley said. “He’s a game-changer. Something we’ve struggled with is some rim defense, both internally and in the closed stuff. That definitely changes things at that end of the court. Even offensively, he can help you in so many ways. It’s surprising. The game comes easy to Donovan. It’s just about conditioning and rust.”
With “conditioning and rust” in mind, as well as the strong play of 6-10 junior Samson Johnson in UConn’s closed-door scrimmages against Virginia and Harvard, Hurley balked at announcing whether Clingan would start in Monday’s banner-raising, season-opener . He had said earlier in the week that the plan was to bring Clingan along “incrementally.”
“Whatever his plan is, he’s the coach, I’m a player,” Clingan said after Sunday’s practice. “He knows what’s best for me and my future and the team, so I’ll just do what he says.”
All Hurley would commit to was that Clingan would be available barring any last-minute setbacks. Amazingly, the 7-foot-3 potential 2024 NBA lottery pick has yet to start a game for the Huskies. Will that come Monday night? Maybe, maybe not. But it will be coming soon.
And why Northern Arizona, you ask? Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the fact that Tim Russo, a UConn grad assistant the past two seasons and son of Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, is now in his first year as an assistant coach with the Lumberjacks.
It’s a game that NAU coach Shane Burcar tried to get last season but didn’t work out. Coincidentally, it worked out this year, and Russo will pick up his national championship ring prior to Monday night’s game.
The Lumberjacks went 12-23 overall last season but made a run as the No. 9 seed to the semifinals of the Big Sky Tournament, where they fell to second-seeded Montana State. NAU will be just the second Big Sky opponent that UConn has faced. The Huskies beat Eastern Washington in 2013 in Bridgeport.
Carson Towt, a 6-8 junior, is the Lumberjacks’ top returnee after averaging 10.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last season. And, of course, one NAU assistant will have some inside intel on the Huskies.
Northern Arizona at No. 6 UConn
When: Monday, 6:30 pm
Onde: Gampel Pavilion
Records (2022-23): Northern Arizona 12-23; UConn 31-8.
Radio: UConn Sports Network, WAVZ-New Haven (1300 AM), WGCH- Greenwich (1490 AM), WATR-Waterbury (1320 AM), WICH-Norwich (1310 AM, 94.5 FM), WILI-Wilimantic (1400 AM, 95.3 FM) , 97.9 FM-ESPN Hartford, SiriusXM-983, SXM App 973
Player Position PPG
Oakland Fort G 4.9
Carson Basham F 4.2
Liam Lloyd G 6.1
Trent McLaughlin G 4.8
Carson Towt F 9.9
Player Position PPG
Tristen Newton G 10.1
Stephon Castle G NA
Alex Karaban F 9.3
Cam Spencer G 13.2
Donovan Clingan C 6.9