Donovan Clingan, No. 1 pick? UConn men’s basketball players rocketing up NBA draft boards

UConn men’s basketball players, Bristol’s Donovan Clingan in particular, have climbed up NBA draft boards as the team continues to perform at an elite level on college basketball’s biggest stage.

Clingan was even said to be in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, on Monday.

After he dominated Illinois, the nation’s second-best offense coming into Saturday’s Elite Eight, with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks (there were more that weren’t counted by the official scorer) and three steals, Clingan rose to No. 3 overall in the mock draft released by ESPN on Monday.

“Donovan Clingan is ESPN’s projected No. 3 pick after a steady rise through March. He’s also in the conversation for No. 1 after a career-best showing in arguably the most impressive two-way performance of any player this season in the Elite Eight,” Givony posted to X.

If the Final Four goes chalk, with both No. 1 seeds advancing, there could be a matchup between the 7-foot-2 Clingan and Purdue’s 7-foot-4, 300-pound Zach Edey in the national title game which scouts – and fans – would certainly pay attention to.

“Illinois shot 3-for-25 from inside the arc (12%) in Clingan’s 22 minutes on the floor, going 0-for-19 when challenging him directly, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He blocked close to half of those attempts (despite only being officially credited with five) while altering many others with his 7-foot-7 wingspan and incredible timing as a rim protector,” Givony wrote, while praising Clingan’s mobility and footwork.

“There will be plenty of debate between now and June regarding who is the better prospect: Clingan or ESPN’s projected No. 2 pick Alex Sarr. (And Sarr is now firmly in the conversation at No. 1, as well.)… One general manager asked ESPN recently, ‘Rudy Gobert or Donovan Clingan?’ regarding who will be the more impactful defensive player, which highlights a college player being compared to a three-time NBA defensive player of the year winner… In a draft lacking in star power at the top, Clingan looks as close to a surefire bet to be a highly productive starter and a major impact performer as you’ll find.”

Clingan was projected to go seventh overall in both Kevin O’Connor’s mock draft for The Ringer and Jonathan Wasserman’s for Bleacher Report, which were each last updated on March 27, a day before UConn’s Sweet 16 game.

O’Connor projected UConn freshman Stephon Castle to go No. 8 overall (though he’s the No. 2 prospect on his big board) and Wasserman had him coming off the board at No. 6, right before Clingan. ESPN also has Castle going in the lottery with the 14th overall pick.

“He’s still one of the most divisive prospects, with believers in his positional strength, ball-handling, passing and defense, and skeptics who question his creation and shot,” Wasserman wrote. “But once we get to the late lottery or mid-first round of this draft, one team seems poised to bet on a big-wing or two-way playmaker and what even moderately improved shooting can do for his offensive game.”

UConn’s NCAA Tournament success has increased the likelihood that it could lose all five starters to either graduation or the draft.

Redshirt sophomore forward Alex Karaban is the Huskies’ third-best pro prospect, projected to go in the second round, 39th overall by The Ringer and 50th by ESPN.

“Knockdown shooter who has good size and strength, is aggressive on drives, and attacks closeouts with either hand, giving him value beyond just spot-up shooting,” O’Connor’s scouting report reads. “Willing screener who can pick-and-pop for 3s. He doesn’t get a chance to do it often, but if a small guard switches onto him, he has proved that he can punish them with hook shots using either hand and backdowns.”

Both Cam Spencer and Tristen Newton will see their eligibility expire after this season.

Spencer, the Huskies’ second-leading scorer (14.4 points per game) who’s shooting 48.7% from the field, 44% from 3 and 92% from the free throw line this season, is projected to go No. 54 overall by Bleacher Report and No. 58, the last pick in the draft, by ESPN.

“A career 41.6% 3-point stroke, excellent floater game and excellent pick-and-roll feel will help teams look past Cam Spencer’s lack of size and athleticism. He’s going to earn a two-way contract with the idea that he can eventually play a shotmaking role while injecting a lineup with toughness and competitiveness,” Wasserman wrote.

And Newton, the Huskies’ First Team All-American, was not included in mock drafts from ESPN or The Ringer, but he’s slotted in at 57th overall by Bleacher Report.

“The further Connecticut advances, the more Tristen Newton’s impact and versatility will be felt,” Wasserman wrote. “Questionable 3-point percentages and underwhelming athleticism won’t stop teams from thinking it’s worth using a two-way contract on a 6’5″ Swiss Army knife who leads the No. 1 team in scoring.”

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