AUGUSTA — Ian Bowers scored one point as a sophomore on the Cony boys basketball team. One point to show for one game after another filled with bouts of anxiety, nervousness and sweaty palms.

“I didn’t play a lot. I wasn’t good,” he said. “I panicked when I got in.”

He paused briefly.

“I still do, sometimes,” he said.

If so, he no longer shows it. Now a senior, the 6-foot-4 Bowers serves as the post presence for an 8-3 Cony team that sits near the top of the Class A North standings. The Rams love to shoot, but they don’t make them all, and it often falls to Bowers to gather up those misses and keep possessions going — as well as provide a tough defensive presence inside for a team without a lot of height.

It’s a job without a lot of fanfare, coach T.J. Maines said. And it’s a job for which he’s proven to be an ideal fit.

“He doesn’t need to score a point, and he’s happy as heck as long as we won the game,” Maines said. “He does things the right way. Everybody would like to coach Ian Bowers. He’s an easy guy to coach because he works his tail off, he listens, and he loves the game and plays with passion.”

And he plays it well, having entered Tuesday’s win over Erskine with per-game averages of 9.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks that ranked first and fifth, respectively, in A North.

“I love it. I love the role that I have, I really do,” said Bowers, one of the Rams’ two captains. “We just mesh really well together, and for me to be inside and playing with all these great shooters, it gives me opportunities to get boards and really play inside.”

Growth has been a theme for the Cony big man. There’s the physical growth he underwent two summers ago, allowing his prospects in the Cony system to change almost overnight. There’s the growth in his skill set, a result of his working to improve an awkward, unnatural offensive game. And there’s the mental maturity that took place as he worked to move past a self-doubt that persisted into high school despite a lifetime playing the sport.

“(There was) definitely a mental block,” Bowers said. “A big confidence block.”

After his sophomore season, Bowers went away to New Hampshire for the summer, then came back having filled out his 6-4 frame.

“It was definitely out of nowhere,” junior guard Simon McCormick said. “We have summer ball, and Ian goes to New Hampshire and no one sees him. And then, when he came back, he was stronger, he was finishing, he was a lot better. It was just a surprise for everyone.”

The result was two-fold. The Rams gave Bowers more of a role, and he found a comfort level that eluded him the year before.

“Coach (and) the team got me really confident playing in practice,” Bowers said. “Really working me up and playing against Jordan (Roddy), for example. … I started playing like a big man, and really using my size to get rebounds and playing like that. That growth year was big.”

With Cony employing a fast-paced attack that prioritized quickness over size, Maines knew he needed an athletic big man that could move, but also give the Rams a fighting chance inside.

“By Christmas time last year, he’d kind of established himself as the guy we wanted to have on the floor in that fourth spot for us,” Maines said. “He’s done nothing but build on that.”

There was still work to be done. Rebounding and shot challenging has always come naturally to Bowers, but he knew he needed to add an offensive game that was far from familiar. Working everywhere from the practice court to the kitchen with his father, Dan, a former UMaine-Farmington player and Cony athletic director, Bowers began to piece together the footwork and finishing touch he’d need.

“Coach has helped me a lot with that, all the coaches,” Bowers said. “Just finishing, going up and down and not sliding away, and just really looking to score. That’s been a problem with me, not just catching and turning, but I’ve got to work on catching and turning and look to attack to be an offensive threat.”

By the end of his junior year, Bowers had become instrumental to the Rams’ success, leading them to the A North semifinals where he held Mr. Maine Basketball finalist Ian McIntyre to four points in a loss to Hampden Academy. He’s only stepped up his game this year, providing the rebounding and shot-blocking totals while also adding 6 points per game.

“His footwork’s gotten much, much better,” Maines said. “He just made a play (Monday) in practice, he made a reverse pivot, sweep, rip, reverse layup that a year ago he certainly wasn’t doing.”

McCormick said that’s made life easier for the Rams’ long bombers.

“All of our threes come from him too,” he said. “When we go inside, defenses have to collapse, and then we have an open shot. When we’re in a rut and he starts finishing, we start to get going.”

Hardly what anyone saw coming as recently as two years ago.

“He plays the way you want everybody to play. Keeps his mouth shut, works his tail off, leads by example,” Maines said. “He’s the guy that everybody needs on a team.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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