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Blazers pick UConn’s Donovan Clingan at No. 7 in NBA draft

Hawks take Zaccharie Risacher with No. 1 pick, second straight year a player from France is first

By Columbian news services
Published: June 26, 2024, 6:32pm
4 Photos
Donovan Clingan, right, poses for a photo with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers as the seventh pick during the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Wednesday, June 26, 2024, in New York.
Donovan Clingan, right, poses for a photo with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected by the Portland Trail Blazers as the seventh pick during the first round of the NBA basketball draft, Wednesday, June 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson) Photo Gallery

NEW YORK — UConn star Donovan Clingan was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the No. 7 pick of the NBA draft on Wednesday night.

Clingan heard his name called three picks after celebrating teammate Stephon Castle, who went to the San Antonio Spurs with the fourth overall pick.

Clingan is coach Dan Hurley’s fourth lottery pick at UConn, joining Castle, James Bouknight and former teammate Jordan Hawkins.

He averaged 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 13.1 minutes per game as a freshman playing behind Adama Sanogo, one of the most impactful freshmen on either side of the ball in his role as a reserve. Opting to turn down the 2023 draft, where he could’ve been selected in the first round, Clingan decided to come back for a year to mature and lead UConn as its anchor down low.

Prior to the draft, the Blazers agreed to a trade with the Washington Wizards for forward Deni Avdija in exchange for Malcolm Brogdon, the 14th pick Wednesday and a 2029 pick. ESPN first reported the deal.

The Blazers chose Bub Carrington of Pittsburgh at No. 14. Carrington will go to the Wizards upon the deal’s approval.

Once he fully recovered from a pair of foot injuries, got his conditioning up to speed, Clingan’s dominance proved itself on the Big East and NCAA Tournament stages.

He was the first player since Patrick Ewing (1984) to post at least 20 points and 15 rebounds in the tournament title game, finishing with 22 and 16 on his way to an All-Tournament selection. Clingan was devastating for opponents during the NCAA Tournament as well, averaging 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game to earn a spot on the All-Tournament team. He was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Region after shutting down Illinois’ game plan with five blocks (that were credited, there were more) to go with his 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Inspired by his late mother, Stacey Porrini Clingan, the 7-foot-2 center changed the way he looked at basketball when she died of breast cancer in 2018, just as he was finishing up his eighth grade year.

Honoring his mother by staying in Bristol, Conn., where she has been inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame, Clingan turned down a number of prep schools that went after him. He dominated lesser competition in Connecticut, won two state titles and was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Connecticut twice as well, averaging 30.3 points, 18.4 rebounds and 6.2 blocks in his undefeated senior season.

As far as his draft night style, Clingan sported a classy back suit with a bow tie. On the inside of his jacket, he had photos of himself with his family and others who helped him get to this point on the right. The left side had photos of just him and his mother.

Clingan chose to remain loyal and local to his roots as he weighed a number of Division I offers, opting to continue his education and pursuit of this NBA draft moment under the guidance of Hurley’s staff.

The winning never stopped.

At UConn, Clingan was part of 63 wins and only 11 losses as he collected a pair of national titles. UConn won a program record 37 of 40 games, including a Big East record 18 in the conference, on its way to the 2024 national title.

French players go 1-2

The Atlanta Hawks took Zaccharie Risacher with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft Wednesday night and France landed three players in the top six in a historic night for the country.

“That’s amazing,” Risacher said. “We try to represent our country and so, glad to be a part of it. You know there is more players coming in.”

Risacher doesn’t come with the enormous height or hype of Victor Wembanyama, the towering center who went to San Antonio last year and went on to win the Rookie of the Year award.

But the Hawks saw him as the best choice in what has been viewed as a draft absent of elite talent.

The 19-year-old forward was the winner of the best young player award in the French League last season and beat out fellow Frenchman Alex Sarr in the race to be the top pick.

When he did, it made NBA draft history. This is the first time that the draft has gone consecutive years without the No. 1 pick being someone who played at an American college.

“Shows the amount of talent we have in France,” Sarr said. “Really excited for Zach. I think our national team is going to be really good.”

Sarr went second to the Washington Wizards after playing last year with Perth in Australia’s National Basketball League.

The Hawks had only a 3% chance of winning the lottery to earn the No. 1 pick, and there was no obvious choice waiting once they did. Most mock drafts were split between Risacher and Sarr, and Atlanta also worked out Clingan.

Houston made Kentucky freshman Reed Sheppard the No. 3 pick. A one-and-done college player had topped the draft for 13 straight years from 2010-22 before Wembanyama ended that streak.

Now the draft is under French rule.

Castle made it two straight college freshmen when San Antonio took him at No. 4, the Spurs’ first of two picks in the top 10. They also held the No. 8 selection — though they dealt the rights to that pick, Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham, to Minnesota.

But the Spurs are holding onto Castle, who had a phone call with Wembanyama and can now throw passes to him to ease his transition from Dan Hurley in his old home to Gregg Popovich in his new one.

“I was just playing for the best coach in college basketball and now flipping to the NBA and going to play for a legendary coach like Coach Pop, it’s a blessing,” Castle said.

The Detroit Pistons took Ron Holland of the G League Ignite with the fifth pick before the Hornets took Tidjane Salaun, who played last year for Cholet Basket in France.

“I think the basketball in France is improved that’s why we are here in this draft,” Saluan said.

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The draft moved to a two-night format this year, with the first round being held as usual at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the second round to be held Thursday at ESPN’s Seaport District studios.

The green room was filled with a number of unfamiliar faces who will head to the NBA from other leagues or other countries. A player who would have been one of the most recognizable was not in the arena: Zach Edey, the two-time AP Player of the Year from Purdue, was taken at No. 9 by Memphis.

Another All-American, Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht, went lower than predicted, after dropping from an expected lottery pick to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 17.

The Knicks had back-to-back picks as the round dragged toward the finish, but their fans had much more to cheer with the moves they made before the draft. New York made a deal to acquire Mikal Bridges from Brooklyn on Tuesday, then got OG Anunoby to agree to stay with the team on a five-year contract worth more than $210 million on Wednesday.

Bronny James was not drafted in the first round, though LeBron James’ son had one of his USC teammates taken just before the night ended, with Isaiah Collier going to Utah with the No. 29 selection.

The first round then wrapped up with the NBA champion Boston Celtics taking Baylor Scheierman from Creighton.