CHINA — Jack Jowett stands near the 3-point line, arms spread in a defensive position, eyes glued to the opposing player dribbling the basketball and planning his next move. Make no mistake, the Erskine Academy guard has no intention of letting his opponent pass.

But Jowett has Noah Bonsant standing a few feet behind him in the paint. And even if the plan goes awry, Jowett knows the Eagles have a fine plan B.

“It’s almost like insurance,” Jowett said. “When somebody goes by you, you’re almost like ‘Oh, Noah’s going to block that.’ ”

Game after game, shot after shot, Jowett’s been proven correct. The 6-foot-4 Bonsant has emerged in his junior season as one of the area’s best big men, averaging 5.1 blocks, 10.3 rebounds and 9.9 points per game and serving as the anchor for an Eagles team that has overcome youth and inexperience to put itself right in the thick of a competitive Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference race.

“He’s probably the best shot blocker I’ve had (and) I’ve coached varsity for 22 years,” said Tim Bonsant, both the Eagles coach and Tim’s uncle. “It’s been everything. In some games we started four sophomores, and they were still nervous early in the year, playing against bigger, stronger guys. But knowing they’ve got Noah behind them who will average (10) rebounds a game and (five) blocks a game, it brings a lot of confidence to my team.”

Bonsant is a capable scorer and fervent rebounder, but his most notable attribute is a shot blocking gift that is rarely included in the skill sets of high school big men. He has long arms and large hands, and most importantly, he knows how to use them. Always has.

“I think almost all of it is natural,” said coach Bonsant, whose team is 6-4 after going 4-14 last season. “You really can’t coach that. Either you have that intuition or you don’t.”

“It’s just what I’ve always been doing, just because I’ve usually been taller than anyone else,” Noah Bonsant said. “It’s mostly natural, but definitely timing (is important). Figuring out who does a shot fake, who doesn’t do a shot fake, that’s pretty much it.”

That’s the biggest element to what’s turned Bonsant into a shot-disrupting menace, one of the best in Class A and one whose highlights include an 11-rebound, eight-block game against Waterville, a 13-rebound, seven-block performance against Maine Central Institute and a 14-point, 12-rebound and 11-block opus against Skowhegan. He has the obvious physical traits — wingspan, height, jumping ability — but he also has advantages in the overlooked areas. His sense of timing allows him to challenge shots without drawing fouls. He jumps quickly, so he doesn’t need to waste precious milliseconds winding up for a leap. And he’s left-handed, meaning he can face the shooter and get his dominant hand that much closer to the shot.

“That’s my No. 1 priority, trying to keep players out of the paint,” he said. “I think it’s big because it kind of changes the opposing team’s gameplan. If they’re planning on taking it to the paint, it might make them kick it out and start jacking up threes, or taking longer shots, which is good for us because we know we can get the rebound.”

Bonsant’s teammates know the value he brings when he steps on the floor. And they thrive on it.

“I think having him swat a ball in the stands is second only to dunking, really, as a momentum swing,” Jowett said. “I think it definitely helps with that side of the game.”

Given Bonsant’s pedigree, it’s no surprise he’s arrived here. Basketball is in his blood. Tim, a former coach at Cony, played as a sophomore on the University of Southern Maine team that made the Division III Final Four and has a jersey hanging on the Erskine gym’s wall. Noah’s father, Tracy, played for the Eagles as well, and Tim said former athletic director Doran Stout called him “the most athletic kid to come through here in the last 40 years.”

And Noah started along his way early, shooting a ball on his Fisher Price hoop as a toddler, playing against his cousins in day care and eventually playing in middle school, where he was teammates with Jowett, whom he’s known since he was five years old.

“It just kind of stuck with me,” Noah said. “Following in my uncle’s footsteps and my dad’s, pretty much.”

All along, Tim said he saw a special player in the making.

“I could tell,” he said. “He was a long kid, big hands, he has a nice touch. And his father’s super athletic.”

Always taller than his peers, Bonsant began honing his defensive post game early. By the time he moved from middle school to high school, he knew how he could flourish.

“Freshman year, I definitely figured that out,” he said. “I played JV primarily, I played a little on varsity. That was when I realized that I could do something with blocking shots.”

He’s carried it into this season, and after gaining what his coach estimated was 20 pounds, he’s added an ability to bang inside for rebounds others used to out-muscle him for. The result has been a player opposing teams know not to attack — and a presence that has blocked shots, affected others and made the Eagles, who didn’t return a starter this season, more competitive than imagined.

“He’s averaging roughly (five) blocks a game, and the opponents know that,” coach Bonsant said. “He must alter another six or seven a game, which is an awful lot of points. We’re 6-4, I’d say the biggest reason we’re 6-4 is he protects the rim and rebounds very well for us.”

Blocks on their own are an asset for a team, but Noah Bonsant’s style makes them even more of a boost. He doesn’t go for the loud rejections, slamming shots into the first row of seats, plays that ignite the team and the crowd but still give the ball back to the shooting team.

Rather, Bonsant doesn’t reject a shot as much as redirect it, with the goal of turning aside an opponent’s scoring chance and providing one for his teammates at the same time.

“He doesn’t try to throw it into the stands. … He’s trying to tap it off a backboard to a teammate,” coach Bonsant said. “We look at it as a turnover. When he blocks a shot, it’s a turnover on the other team, we’re going to try to score on the other end without really getting in an offense. So it’s almost like a fast break.”

Those are the plays that a team learning the varsity pace on the fly needs. And they;re plays Erskine’s anchor is happy to provide.

“I honestly like it more than scoring,” Bonsant said. “It just shows that you don’t have to be a scorer to be an asset to your team. It just feels really good to know that you’re helping your team out even if you’re not scoring 20 points a game or whatever.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM