The Midcoast Sternmen Are What the NBA Used to Be

Maine‘s new semi-pro basketball team is scrappy, physical, and full of players hungry for their shot.

Brathwaite shoots over teammate and erstwhile UMaine Fort Kent center Thomas Enerva.
By Joel Crabtree
Photographed by Jason Frank

At Thomas College, in Waterville, Isaiah Brathwaite was a standout on the basketball court. Between 2007 and 2011, he scored more than 1,000 career points and, in his senior season, was named the Division III North Atlantic Conference’s defensive player of the year. Some overseas professional teams showed interest in signing Brathwaite, but he had more pressing things on his mind — he was anticipating the birth of his first child, so he set aside his basketball ambitions and stayed close to home.

Now 32 years old, Brathwaite works full-time as an ed tech at Augusta’s Farrington Elementary School, coaches the junior-varsity basketball team at Cony High School, and has two kids. This summer, though, he’s taking another run at his dream of playing for a living, with the Midcoast Sternmen, a new semi-pro club in Rockland that competes as part of the Pro Basketball Association. “Now that the opportunity has presented itself again,” Brathwaite says, “I’m going to give it all I’ve got.”

This PBA regular season consists of just 10 games against regional opponents — the Sternmen will play squads from Pennsylvania and New York, although there are teams across the country. Brathwaite and many other PBA players aim to use the scrappy summer league as a way to get noticed by pro teams in Europe, Asia, and South America. Those markets were once hit-or-miss in terms of salary and quality of competition, but players can now easily pull six figures overseas while playing against high-end talent.

Former Thomas College star Isaiah Brathwaite
Jim Graffam, coach of the Midcoast Sternmen

Former Thomas College star Isaiah Brathwaite (left) is chasing an overseas contract by playing on coach Jim Graffam’s Midcoast Sternmen this summer.

Brad Galley, a vice president at Machias Savings Bank and the owner of the Sternmen, first heard about the PBA last year, through a Facebook ad. He played at Bangor’s Husson University in the early 2000s, and the notion of running his own club piqued his interest. “We’re not flying first class,” Galley says. “We’re renting passenger vans and staying at Motel 6 when we go on the road. I’m just a fan of watching these guys compete, dive on the floor, all the things that the NBA used to do 20 years ago that they don’t do anymore.” 

To help supplement his players’ low wages — a stipend that’s paid out game by game — Galley found seasonal jobs for the players at local restaurants and inns. Carter Skaggs, who played Division I basketball at Washington State from 2017 to 2020, is working at Rockport’s Samoset Resort this summer. “It’ll be so nice just to wake up and say I get to practice tonight, I get to go play, I get to really focus on getting back in awesome shape, to be around guys who are ultimately trying to do the same thing,” Skaggs says.

Jim Graffam, the Sternmen’s coach, is a member of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame for his several decades of coaching at schools that include the University of Southern Maine and University of New England. His current players, he says, are high character and highly motivated to build stat lines and highlight reels that will draw the attention of foreign scouts. “They’re all hungry — we’re gonna go for 48 minutes every game as hard as we can.”

An elder statesman among the Sternmen, Isaiah Brathwaite knows he’s at an age when many pro careers are ending, even though he’s hoping that his is only just beginning. “You gotta trust in your abilities, trust in the work that you’ve put in,” Brathwaite says. “If you believe in that and continue to work and never be satisfied, you can reach it.”

The Sternmen’s season runs through August. The next home game at the Flanagan Community Center (61 Limerock St, Rockland) is July 17 against the Buffalo Blaze. Tickets cost $10.