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Tobias Harris is always improving, and it has paid off

Tobias Harris takes in some lunch with his

Tobias Harris takes in some lunch with his basketball campers on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at Half Hollow Hills East High School. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The pressure was on Tobias Harris. Time was running out and he was surrounded by opponents. He knew he had to make his move or the game would be lost.

So he rolled the dice, passed go and collected 200 dollars.

Even at 22 years old, Harris has spent many nights this summer at home on Long Island, gathered around the dining room table with his family, playing Monopoly.

"When you are playing as a kid," Harris said, "you never realize how much it tells you about real life."

Like the benefits of investing, the importance of patience and, of course, the value of money. It has provided a lesson in fiscal responsibility at the perfect time for Harris, who said Saturday that he has reached a four-year, $64-million deal to remain with the Orlando Magic.

In terms of annual salary, the Half Hollow Hills West High School product became Long Island's highest-paid homegrown basketball player. He has surpassed Cold Spring Harbor's Wally Szczerbiak, who made $13.8 million with Cleveland in 2008-09; Huntington Station's Tom Gugliotta, who made $11.7 million with Phoenix in 2003-04, and North Babylon's Danny Green, who on Wednesday agreed to a four-year, $45- million deal with the Spurs.

"If you would have told me six years ago that I'd be in this position, I wouldn't have believed you," Harris said. "But as a player, you can't settle. Guys get contracts, they get paid and they settle. I don't want to be that guy. I'm not going to be that guy."

That means Harris will continue to wake up at 6 every morning to do a two-hour workout, followed by an hour and a half of weight lifting, then hot yoga, and finally high-altitude training on a stationary bike. There was a time, though, when he wasn't quite as chiseled.

"He was a little heavy as a kid," his mother, Lisa, said with a laugh Wednesday at Tobias' School of Business basketball camp in Dix Hills. "Somebody came in here yesterday and said, 'I remember little fat Tobias! And I said, 'He was never fat! Just a little chubby!' "

As he grew, he shed the baby fat, and the highlight-reel plays began.

Here's one: Coming down the court in transition, Harris made a strong move to his right, stopped suddenly, stepped back and hit the jumper. Then his defender picked himself up off the floor.

Harris was 10 years old. "When I saw that move, I was like, 'Oh my gosh! He's a pro!' " said his father, Torrel. "The whole crowd couldn't believe he was only 10."

On senior night in 2008, Harris, a sophomore in his third season on Hills West's varsity team, gave his spot in the starting lineup to a senior teammate. Harris, the Colts' leading scorer at 29 points per game, wanted the senior to get the spotlight.

Then he came off the bench and scored a career-high 52 points.

He led the Colts to a county championship later that season.

"As he got older and taller, he increased his speed and agility," Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna said. "He became stronger and more of a post presence. Between his sophomore and senior seasons, he turned into a man."

For his junior season, he transferred to Long Island Lutheran, where he averaged 23.5 points and led the Crusaders to the state Federation title. He returned to Hills West for his senior year, leading the Colts to the county championship game against Longwood. The stands at Farmingdale State reached capacity and fans had to be turned away.

"If I had to go back to one spot in my life," Harris said, "I'd go back to that game."

He scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead three-pointer as the Colts captured another county title. Hills West went on to win its first Long Island championship and Harris, who averaged 24.7 points and 14.4 rebounds, was named Newsday's player of the year for the second straight season.

"I think about that Longwood game like once a week," said Harris, the Colts' all-time leading scorer, who had his No. 12 jersey retired by Hills West in January. "Those are the kind of memories you never forget."

Off the court, he creates memories that others will never forget. Mitaritonna invited Harris to his son Brendan's seventh birthday party in 2013. Harris was busy because he was leaving for Orlando the following morning to play in the Summer League. However, in the middle of the party, in walked Harris, who took pictures, signed autographs and put on a dunk contest for the kids.

"He made my son's life," Mitaritonna said of Harris, who has won two community service awards in Orlando. "He does things like that, and that's what makes him an all-around great person."

During a live broadcast on ESPNU in November 2009, Harris revealed that he would attend the University of Tennessee. He averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in his only season at Tennessee before declaring for the 2011 NBA Draft.

"I think it was the perfect decision," Harris said of being one-and-done in college. "I tell any kid, if you can go in the first round and get drafted, it's the right move because when you get to the NBA, it's like starting your development over again. You may as well go in young and get yourself ready."

The Milwaukee Bucks acquired Harris on draft night from the Charlotte Bobcats, who had selected him with the 19th overall pick, and he played sparingly for the Bucks in his first season and a half.

"I put pressure on myself because I wasn't playing," Harris said. "That shifted my game to where I had to get on the basketball court to show people that I can just stay in this league. That pushed me to be the best that I can be."

He began to show what he could be after getting traded in 2013 to Orlando, where he emerged as an offensive threat. In late-game situations, the Magic began to give the ball to Harris, who hit two game-winning buzzer-beaters last season.

"You have to be in my house for those," Lisa said. "It is loud!"

At 6-9, Harris can handle the ball like a point guard and has improved his three-point shooting. He can post up smaller defenders as a small forward or beat larger defenders off the dribble as a power forward.

Last season, he became only the ninth player in NBA history at the age of 22 to average at least 17 points (17.1) and six rebounds (6.3) and shoot 35 percent (36.4) from three-point range.

"My game has evolved," Harris said. "And it's nowhere near where it can be. I'm only 22 years old and I still see everyday areas where I can continue to grow."

Harris' game grew while he played pickup games in Manhattan last summer with Carmelo Anthony, against whom he honed his defensive skills and "stole some moves."

His offensive game has been refined with the help of Hall of Famer George Gervin -- a four-time scoring champion and family friend -- who has mentored Harris since he was a kid.

"He's always a threat with the basketball because he has the versatility to do a lot of things," Gervin said Friday. "He can shoot the in-between jumper, he can shoot the three, he can get by you and dunk on you. To me, he's a 25-, 26-point-average guy, real easy. He has all the tools."

Harris says that in any game, whether played with dice or a basketball, he's driven to be the best. Which is why, instead of going out for the nightlife like many his age, he has been spending his days preparing for the season and his nights playing board games.

"There's just nothing out there for me," he said. "This game is my job. It's my craft. It's my life. There's nothing else I'd rather be doing."

Except maybe playing Monopoly.

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