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DIRIGO STORIES: Maine basketball star follows his dream to paint

Donahue says this is a self-portrait. It shows him wearing his old jersey when he played for Westbrook High School in the late 1960s (WGME).

SOUTH PORTLAND (WGME) – A prolific Maine high school basketball player hasn’t looked back decades after giving up basketball for a career as an artist.

“I never remember not drawing,” said Matt Donahue, of South Portland.

These days Donahue works part-time at the South Portland Community Center overseeing the morning pickleball games a couple times a week. His full-time job is painting, teaching, and selling art out of his home-turned-gallery just across the street.

“I have the best job,” Donahue said. “I can sketch at the community center during my shifts, and then go home and paint them.”

Donahue’s art runs the gamut from portrait painting to impressionism. Several paintings offer glimpses into his former life – the life as a star basketball player at Westbrook High School.

“This one here is me,” Donahue said as he pointed to a painting of a bearded man with white-hair, clutching an open can of beer, and wearing a number 12 basketball jersey.

“Basketball was nothing more than a game to me. Just something to have fun,” he said.

Donahue had plenty of fun playing at Westbrook in the late 1960s. He's still the all-time leading scorer in school history, and held the single-game scoring record for decades. Donahue scored 57 points in one game. The other team combined scored 56.

“That was before the 3-point line, ya know,” Donahue said. “So it’d be more like 80 points today.”

That’s the most you’ll likely hear the Maine Basketball Hall of Famer boast about basketball, even though as a teenager he also played summer ball at the old Griffin Club against Boston Celtics greats like Wayne “The Wall” Embry, Hank Finkle, and 7-time NBA all-star Jo Jo White (the Celtics have since retired White’s number 10 jersey).

Donahue would go on to set scoring records playing basketball at the University of Southern Maine his freshman year. That’s when things changed.

“I knew the sports thing was going to be a very temporary thing,” Donahue said. “

He gave it all up to paint.

“The dream was to be as good a high school basketball player as I could be, and then paint.”

Donahue hasn’t really looked back, only when asked by former teammates or opponents he runs into from time-to-time.

“I don’t think because I played basketball it’s a big deal, or that I’m painting that it’s a big deal, but it’s what I wanted to do,” Donahue said.

He lived a life for himself, and encourages others to do the same.

“I think it's always worth a gamble.”

Donahue admits the gamble to paint didn’t pay handsomely, but working part-time at the community center has allowed him to follow his true passion – his art.

“I want to finish my life painting every minute that I can.”

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