By FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | January 19, 2023 11:45 PM
At 6-foot-7, you figure Noah Dowler is naturally predisposed to be on a basketball court.
You can find him there many nights with the Glacier Wolfpack, guarding the basket in the event an opponent beats his team’s man-to-man defense. But before middle school, basketball wasn’t the first thing on his mind.
“I really didn’t know how to play at all,” he asserted this week, ahead of Glacier’s first Crosstown doubleheader with Flathead, Friday at the Wolf Den. “Then in seventh grade I was invited to join a travel ball team with one of my friends. That’s when I kind of put it all together: Shooting, dribbling…”
Rebounding. Blocked shots. Dowler is among the Western AA leaders in those categories, averaging one block a game and 7.9 rebounds. He’s a big reason Glacier is off to a 5-3 start.
“A couple things about Noah,” Glacier basketball coach Mark Harkins said. “Defensively, he’s just a force in the middle. Great protector, great rebounder, and he’s really, really solid.
“And he’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet. So giving, he sometimes shorts himself. He’s really concerned about doing well by others. It’s an amazing quality.”
It can lead to some dynamic kick-out passes, which fits right in with Glacier’s inside-out philosophy on offense. Yet there are times, when the basket is right there, that the open man in Dowler himself.
“I get that,” said Dowler, who is averaging 6.1 points this season, down from 8.2 in 2021-22. “Sometimes I get nervous and don’t want to miss the shot, and I see somebody open. It’s just that mental part of the game where you have to be confident in yourself.”
Dowler is born and raised in Kalispell, as were his parents Luke and Jacy — though Luke, a renowned local musician, lived all over the map after his dad re-enlisted in the Marines.
“When we lived in DC, I went to a private school, and the school was so small they only had seven players,” remembered Luke Dowler, who stands 6-6. “I was more of a warm body.”
He played organized basketball, soccer and baseball growing up — baseball seems to be a favorite, though he has fond memories of playing hoops in Japan — and spent his senior year back at Flathead High School after his dad put in his 20 years in the military.
Basketball was back-burnered by then.
“When I moved back here is when I kind of cut off (athletics) and I just went hard into music,” he said. “I kind of grabbed a guitar and just ran.”
Music is a profession that offers just as much travel as the military, and Luke Dowler traveled. Offers came to pull up stakes, but Kalispell was home.
“Noah was plugged into friends and a system — the basketball program — and seemed to be thriving,” his dad said. “He had a lot of natural prowess and ability. At some point it was, ‘Hey, you’ve got height and potential, you’ve got the hands. It’s just a matter of how much time you want to put in. It’s not going to be easy.’ “
Noah Dowler remembers Xavier Stout, Adam Nikunen and Gage Sliter being part of that first travel team; also Logan O’Donnell, Jeff Lillard and Harrison Sanders.
“Pretty much that whole team goes to Glacier,” he said. “We’re still all pretty good friends.”
One of Glacier’s best wins this season came 51-44 in overtime over physical Helena Capital last week. Dowler hit a crucial basket late in regulation — his only basket, as it turned out.
“It was huge,” Harkins said. “And he contributed in so many other ways as well, and what he’s done is become a really good passer. Teams collapse on him, and he’s one of our best assist-to-turnover kids.”
“I’m pretty good at finishing around the rim, (but) I got off to a pretty rough start this year,” he said. “I’ll start getting 20 bombs, just you wait.”
Friday he and the Wolfpack will take on a winless Flathead team that has lost five straight in the Crosstown series, but won’t go easy — and the Braves’ Gaberiel Sims averages 8.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, both tops in Class AA.
Getting off to a fast start will be critical.
“We have a good team,” Dowler said. “The only games we lost, we just haven’t started well. We have got to play the college philosophy — we have to win every four minutes. Play the crap out of that four minutes, and then the next four minutes after that.”
Dowler, not unlike his middle school days, continues to attract attention. He’s visited with Montana Tech of the Frontier Conference.
Junior college is another route, but Harkins said Dowler can play.
“There’s no question in my mind, he can,” said the Wolfpack’s coach. “Hard-working kid. His offense is getting better and better and better. Defensively, he’s a force. I think he’s a steal for somebody.”
Dowler noted the Montana Tech staff compared him to former Oredigger Cody Baumstarck, who is now a graduate assistant. Baumstarck ranks third in career blocked shots at Tech.
“It is honestly a really nice school,” Dowler said.
A generation ago Luke Dowler was born in Kalispell: His dad had seen a magazine ad for park rangers in Glacier National Park, and moved here sight unseen. Now he has a son — “Universally known as the nicest kid,” dad said — who wanted to play the cello but couldn’t find one that fit him. Now he can blaze his own unique trail through hoops.
“He’s put a lot of work in,” he said of Noah. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of him, now matter how it shakes out.”