Two longtime Cony High School boys basketball assistant coaches will get an opportunity this winter to lead their own programs.

Matt Barry will coach the Erskine Academy boys basketball team in South China, while Isaiah Brathwaite will lead the Messalonskee boys basketball team in Oakland. It’s the first head coaching job for the friends-turned-adversaries, at least on a court.

Both programs compete in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

Barry, 49, a Massachusetts native, said becoming a head coach has been a dream 26 years in the making.

“I’ve been trying, really, for a good eight to 10 years trying here and there to get a varsity (head coaching) job,” he said. “It finally came about with Erskine. It’s going to really be a good opportunity for me because their program has struggled a bit, but I’ve had 20-plus kids at summer basketball, eager kids who want to learn. I think we’ll quickly get better.”

Barry has made his way through the high school and college coaching ranks in the last two decades, including stints at Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn, Gray-New Gloucester and Cheverus High School in Portland. A conversation one summer with TJ Maines at Hoop Camp in Casco formed a mentorship that would span years. Berry coached under Maines for four years as an assistant at Thomas College and, eventually, at Cony.


“(Barry) has really good understanding of the game and how to teach the game,” said Maines, who led the Rams to a 13-7 record last season and a trip to the A North semifinals. “That’s really important. He’s got a great demeanor. He’s a soft-spoken guy, but kids gravitate toward him, kids like talking to him. He’ll be able to get his point across without being a screamer or a yeller. He’s got a great temperament.”

“The one thing I learned (under Maines) is, I thought I knew enough about basketball,” Barry said. “But as a young coach, you don’t know nearly enough about basketball to be as good of a coach as you can. I learned so much from TJ and Jon Hayes, who worked with us over (at Thomas). Those two guys are like brothers to me, they’ve been very supportive. I’ve just learned so much about the game from them. The thing about TJ is, he really cares about his kids. You can tell by all the former players who keep in touch, his phone is going off constantly. Former players are showing up to (games and events) constantly. He really showed me how the relationship-building is a real key piece (to coaching).”

Brathwaite, 33, played under current University of Maine at Farmington men’s assistant coach Jim Bessey at Mt. Blue High in Farmington. He would go on to have a standout career under both Maines and Barry at Thomas College from 2007-2011, finishing with 1,136 points for the Terriers, 21st on the school’s all-time scoring list.

New Erskine boys basketball coach Matt Berry runs some drills during a youth basketball camp Tuesday in South China. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“I’m super excited,” Brathwaite said. “To finally be able to do my own thing, run my own program, it’s starting a new chapter and it’s something that I feel like I worked for and I’m just excited to be there.”

Like Barry, Maines said he believes Brathwaite is also ready to lead a program.

“Isaiah has a boundless amount of energy,” Maines said. “He has a real love for basketball. That will come across really quickly to his players, to parents, to the Messalonskee community. They’ll pick up on that right away. For me, Isaiah is like a son. He and I have been in each other’s lives for half his life, the last 17 years or so. I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s earned this with the seven years he’s coached with me. I think he could have (left) before, other people called about him, wanting him to do it. But he wanted to stay with us and see thing through. This just happened to be a great opportunity. They’re going to be really good, they’ve got really good young players.”


Both Barry and Brathwaite have challenges ahead, both with Class A North programs. Erskine (1-18) finished last of the 10 teams in the tough KVAC A last season. Messalonskee (4-16) finished ninth in the conference, making an appearance in the A North quarterfinals before getting knocked out by eventual Class A champion Nokomis.

Barry said he’s had up to 26 kids sign up for summer basketball.

“The young kids are pretty talented and pretty passionate about playing,” said Barry, who also works in the special education department at Cony Middle School. “I think that’s half the battle. If they want to play and they love playing, I’ll help them try to get better.

New Messalonskee boys basketball coach Isaiah Brathwaite, right, gestures during his youth basketball camp on Monday in Oakland. The camp was players in third through eighth grades. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“The big thing with me is, I like to play quicker. Basketball is more fun to coach, more fun to play, more fun to watch if it’s quicker and at a better pace. That’s something we’re already trying to implement. I think, even in the few games we’ve played this summer, the kids are starting to get it and the kids are starting to see the benefit of it.”

Brathwaite said he wants to build positive energy within the program, and expects his team to move quickly on the floor.

“I just want to build a culture, build a positive energy culture,” said Brathwaite, who was also hired for a position in Messalonskee’s ed tech learners program. “Something we can be proud of and represent our school and our community well. Have our kids stand up for that, both on and off the court. And I want them to get up and down (the floor) a little bit more than they have before. The intensity, just bring it up and have consistency of playing well and playing hard all the time.”

Cony, Erskine and Messalonskee will all meet each other on the hardwood next season. But even though Maines, Barry and Brathwaite will be rival coaches, all three are pulling for each other.

“Obviously, we’re competitors and we want to win,” Brathwaite said. “But at the same (time), we want each other to succeed and to do well. We’re proud of each other on and off the court with what we’re doing as a whole. I just enjoy I’m still able to have (Maines) and other coaches to be able to reach out with through other camps or clinics. It’s truly a blessing to know that we all have the same goal to try and make Maine basketball better.”

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