No.1 Bristol Central prepared for tough road game against Wilbur Cross


Donovan Clingan was extremely busy last weekend.

Basketball practice? Yes, Bristol Central trained on Sunday afternoon. But the 7-foot-2 center spent most of his weekend doing something else: shoveling snow.

Clingan has worked for a landscaping company for the past two years. He said he spent about 7 p.m. last weekend shoveling snow. Yes, the state’s top rookie in the 2022 class, heading to UConn next season, was shoveling snow most of the day during the Northeast on Saturday, then a few more hours before practice on Sunday.

“I wasn’t as tired as I thought (for practice),” Clingan said. “Even when I was little, I liked it. I kept shoveling. It’s just easy money. But if I have a game, I won’t shovel.

The shoveling obviously didn’t affect Clingan in his Monday opener against Platt. He scored 47 points, setting a single game record at Bristol Central.

Bristol Central now brings a 28-game winning streak and the state’s No. 1 ranking to New Haven on Wednesday night to take on Wilbur Cross at Floyd Little Athletic Center at 8 p.m.

“When there’s a lot of (fan) energy, I feel like our team uses it as fuel,” Clingan said. “It keeps us going. In an atmosphere like that, we play so much better.

Bristol Central coach Tim Barrette said: “We’re talking about being No.1 and everyone wants to beat you. When you win, great, you’re supposed to win. It’s been everyone’s year beating No. 1. I try to stress with my guys to treat every game like a big game because you’re the game that everyone circles on their schedule.

The Bristol Central-Wilbur Cross match is the final drink of a triple title, the Robert Saulsbury Invitational. Career and Whitney Tech will start the day at 4 p.m., followed by third-placed Windsor against Hillhouse at 6 p.m. Tickets will be sold at the door only, $10 for all three games, $5 for students.

The invitation is named after the legendary former Wilbur Cross boys’ basketball coach, now 92, who is expected to attend on Wednesday. Saulsbury won nine state championships with governors. The tiered program has 14 in total.

“I got calls about it. People are aware of what’s going on,” Wilbur Cross coach Kevin Walton said. “With the Hillhouse-Windsor game, it’s a big night for high school basketball in Connecticut and New Haven. But that’s what we do. I hope people come to see some good basketball in high school.

The Governors (8-5), who dropped out of the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll this week for the first time this season, are in the midst of a brutal streak of games. They lost to Notre Dame-West Haven on Friday and Fairfield Prep on Monday.

They host Amity on Thursday, another team that has beaten Cross this season, and play Hand on Tuesday.

“It’s a very important section. There’s no ifs and ors about it, we gotta go out and play,” Wilbur Cross junior guard Christian McClease said. “No matter the game, we have to go out and play. We’ve always come out with the same mentality to win those big games and beat the odds.

Says Walton, “It’s going to be exciting to have the #1 prospect in your building. We are not running away from that. We built this calendar to prepare for March. We want to be the best, so you have to play the best. We learned more about our team in those tough losses than playing against a weaker opponent and winning by 30.”

The last time Bristol Central (13-0) lost was to East Catholic in the 2020 CCC Tournament quarter-finals. The Rams won the CCC Tournament Premier League last year, finishing a season 15-0 and finishing No. 1 in the poll. They started in the same place this season.

Neal Richardson, who helped organize this event, was one of the first people to approach Bristol Central last spring to be part of it. The Hoophall Classic had already locked down at Bristol Central for another non-conference game.

“We didn’t want to lose a 7-footer coming to New Haven,” Richardson said. “We are happy to have this event back.

And since Bristol Central is hosting its own Christmas tournament, the Rams’ schedule was already full.

Barrette said Ridgefield, Notre Dame-West Haven, Bassick and Kolbe Cathedral — which had a home series in 2020 and 2021 canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic — have all reached out for games.

The Rams held on to beat Springfield Central (Massachusetts) at the Hoophall Classic in January in a hostile environment in what was essentially a road game. It might serve Wednesday well if it ends up being a good crowd.

“I can’t wait to be there,” Clingan said. “It will set me up for a sold-out XL Center (in Hartford) and a sold-out Gampel (Pavillon, in Storrs, where UConn plays its home games with the XL Center). It will prepare me for it.

Said Barrette: “We wanted to challenge ourselves at the best venues against the best teams. It should be a contrast of styles on Wednesday night. We don’t downplay that very often. It’s a different kind of basketball there. I’m curious to see how my guys handle the style change.

The last time Windsor and Hillhouse met was two seasons ago at the sports centre. Windsor, second in the table, came from behind to force extra time and beat number 4 Hillhouse 83-74.

Windsor (10-1) has only suffered one loss this season, against Northwest Catholic at the buzzer. Hillhouse arrives at 9-5

Windsor was supposed to play in the first game of the Saulsbury Invitational in late December against East Hartford, but that game was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Warriors now host East Hartford on Friday.

The Career-Whitney Tech game was also scheduled to be part of that December tournament. Wilbur Cross was due to face Bishop Hendriken (RI). This match has not yet been rescheduled.

[email protected]; @nhrJoeMorelli


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