Newsday Player of the Year: Zaire Baines, Portledge, G, 5-11, Sr.
Long Island has had its share of outstanding high school boys basketball players. It’s turned out college stars and players that made the pros and a few who have etched their names into the public consciousness. But very, very few have put their indelible mark on a season.
Zaire Baines of Portledge did just that in 2021-22. The 5-11 senior point guard carved his name into the annals by setting the Island’s boys basketball scoring record this season. He averaged 29.4 points and eclipsed the all-time mark Greenport’s Ryan Creighton forged in 2009 by finishing with 2,799 points.
Baines crossed that plateau midseason and finished with 3,148 career points.
“He is special in a way that few coaches see,” Portledge coach Nick Tsikitas said. “We’re talking about a player who is at his best when faced with the best competition. This is what exceptional looks like.”
"I don’t really think about the record," Baines said that day. "Maybe it crossed my mind first when I hit 1,000 points and maybe again when I hit 2,000 [in 2020]. But a lot has happened in the past year, and it really hasn’t been on my mind as much."
Baines helped Portledge to a 21-6 record this season, which ended with a loss in the New York State Association of Independent School Class B championship game.
Baines was at his best against top competition.
Baines scored 37 against CHSAA state Class AA champion Cardinal Hayes. He scored 35 against Long Island CHSAA champion Holy Trinity. He had 39 points against public school Class AA powerhouse Brentwood. And he scored 17 against Long Island CHSAA regular-season champion Chaminade.
“We play as tough a non-conference schedule . . . and the better the opponent, the more he seemed to rise to the occasion,"Tsikitas said. "People use the phrase ‘big-time player.’ He is it.”
Yet the scoring champion got the most enjoyment out of assists. He averaged 3.9 per game.
“He always has had a pure scoring ability — his shoulders always square to the basket, the great body control, a fearlessness about driving in against taller players — but he also now keeps everyone involved,” Tsikitas said.
Baines dedicated this season to the memory of Uniondale’s Jo-Jo Wright, who was killed in a car accident on Jan. 27, 2021. They played together on an AAU travel team and Baines now has a tattoo on his left arm that pays homage to him.
“I’ve tried to live out his dream and his legacy,” Baines said.
He can rest assured with his accomplishments this season that he has done that.
Suffolk Player of the Year: Zatai Townsend, Brentwood, G, 6-1, Sr.
Zatai Townsend didn’t have a pandemic-shortened junior season after undergoing knee surgery. But he returned for one last run in a Brentwood uniform, and this closing act was a show worth watching.
The combo guard averaged 24.5 points this season for a team that went undefeated in League I and 18-3 overall after falling in the Suffolk AA semis. He scored 30-plus points eight times, made 60 threes and posted one triple-double. He also averaged 5.2 assists and 2.3 steals in regular-season play.
“I think he’s just an incredible worker,” coach Anthony Jimenez said. “To come back from an injury . . . the second he was cleared to play, he was working to elevate his game with such great intensity, it was admirable. As a result, he had a terrific season.”
Jimenez said Townsend is leaning toward Monroe College in New Rochelle, a Division I JUCO, as his next team.
“He’s incredibly strong,” Jimenez said. “He’s a very shifty player. That’s what makes him great with the ball in his hands . . . He’s got great elevation . . . He’s explosive. He’s got great range. He’s a consistent shooter. ”
And he’s coachable.
“He’s not driven by ego,” Jimenez said. “He’s driven by wanting to win and being a great teammate.”
Manu Alford, Holy Trinity, G/F, 6-3, Sr.
A smart and strong-willed leader on the court, Alford could exert his will on both ends of the court by scoring or defending the opponent’s top scorer. He averaged 17.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 46% from the floor, including 39% on three-point attempts.
Dylan Banner, Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK, F, 6-5, Sr.
With the ability to play at any spot on the floor and score inside and out, he averaged 23.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists while scoring a school single-season record 508 points.
Patrick Burke, Smithtown West, F, 6-8, Jr.
Burke was a force, averaging 20 points, 14.3 rebounds — including a program-record 28 in a Suffolk Class AA first-round win over Bay Shore — 3.2 blocks and 2.9 assists. The captain shot 56.2% from the floor and 72.3% from the line and was named the Suffolk III MVP after leading the team to the league title.
Liam Connor, Manhasset, G/F, 6-4, Jr.
Connor averaged 17.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals for Manhasset’s Class A state title team. He had 29 points and 11 rebounds in the state semifinal vs. Poughkeepsie. He made an early commitment to Colgate to play lacrosse.
Preston Edmead, Deer Park, G, 5-10, So.
With an array of talents — shooting, passing and stealing the ball — he averaged 23.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.2 steals. Edmead is a big-game player who stands 102 away from the 1,000-point mark.
Matty Garside, Kings Park, G, 6-3, Jr.
Garside had a breakout season for the Suffolk Class A champion, averaging 20.4 points, 5.0 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals. He led Long Island with 98 threes, on 45.4% shooting, and made 79.6% from the line. He was the Suffolk Class A Player of the Year, the county Class A playoff MVP and the Suffolk League V MVP.
Xavier Lewis, Half Hollow Hills East, G, 5-8, Sr.
Lewis averaged 21.1 points overall (22.2 in the playoffs), 4.0 assists, 3.9 steals and 3.2 rebounds, and he was in the top five on Long Island with 171 field goals for the Suffolk Class AA winner. Lewis, an uncommitted D-III recruit, was the overall leading scorer in four of his five postseason games and was named the county AA playoff MVP.
Jayden Pierre, Long Island Lutheran, G, 6-2, Sr.
A tenacious player on both ends of the court, he averaged 13.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds while also making 41% of his three-point attempts and guarding the opponent's best scorer. Pierre will play for Big East regular-season champion Providence next season.
Jayden Reid, Long Island Lutheran, G, 5-10, Jr.
The Westbury product averaged 17.6 points, 3.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds. He used his elite quickness to excel in the many games the Crusaders played against top teams on their national schedule.
Nick Watts, Northport, F, 6-7, Sr.
He was the Suffolk League II Player of the Year and led the Tigers to a 20-1 record. He was an inside and outside scoring threat and made 37 three-pointers. He averaged 14 points, 4 assists, 4 blocks and 3 steals per game. Watts helped Northport reach the Suffolk AA final three years straight and led the Tigers to a 50-6 record in that span, including 31 wins in the past 32 league games. His signature game was a win over Connetquot where he hit 10 of 12 three-pointers and scored 30 of his 42 points in the first quarter. He earned a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.
Ryan Weiss, Hewlett, G, 6-3, Jr.
Weiss led all Long Island public school scorers at 27.5 points per game, including 46 in an 80-79, double-OT win over Roslyn in the Nassau Class A Round of 16, He’s a smart player and a great shooter who hit 84 threes but also improved at going to the basket. He has scholarship offers from Bryant and UMBC and is being recruited by other D-I colleges.
Nassau Coach of the Year: George Bruns, Manhasset
Bruns, in his 20th season in charge, guided Manhasset to a 25-1 record and the program’s first state title since 1986. It won Nassau Conference A-III at 12-0 and then the Nassau and Long Island Class A titles before claiming the NYSPHSAA crown in Glens Falls.
Suffolk Coach of the Year: Chris Rube, Kings Park
Rube led Kings Park to a 24-0 start that included the Suffolk League V title — the Class A program’s first county championship since 2007 — and the county small schools crown. The Kingsmen finished at 24-2.
All-Long Island Second Team
Wilson Bennett, Pierson, F, 6-4, Sr.
Bennett averaged 20.3 points as the Drew commit helped Pierson reach the state Class C final four in Glens Falls by scoring 17 of his 34 in the fourth quarter of the Southeast Regional final win over Alexander Hamilton.
Dave DeBusschere, Chaminade, G, 5-10, Jr.
The grandson of the legendary Knick of the same name and the go-to guy on a very talented team, he averaged 15.1 points while making 50.2% of his shots, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Jalyke Gaines-Wyatt, St. Anthony’s, G, 6-foot, Sr.
The CHSAA Player of the Year averaged 21 points with the ability to score on the pull-up or drive and 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Matt Lindenman, Syosset, G, 5-10, Sr.
Lindenman, a team leader who helped Syosset to a 20-0 start before it fell in the Nassau Class AA semis, averaged 16.4 points, 40% on threes, 5 rebounds and 3.5 steals on the way to earning Nassau Conference AA-I Player of the Year.
LeBron Napier, Southampton, G/F, 6-3, Sr.
Napier averaged 22.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals for the Suffolk Class B champ and finished with 1,019 points across four seasons despite missing eight games with an injury his freshman year and playing only six as a junior because of the pandemic.
Mike Notias, Manhasset, G, 5-11, Sr.
Notias developed a pull-up jumper and averaged 18 points (with 46% shooting on threes) to go with 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals in Manhasset’s run to a state title.
Jimmy O’Connell, Wheatley, G, 5-10, Sr.
O’Connell “did everything for me but sell hot dogs,” according to coach Rich Slater. "Everything" included 21.8 points, 6.7 assists and 3.5 steals.
Derek Reed, Southampton, PG, 5-11, Jr.
Reed averaged 20 points per game, seven assists and four steals. He had a 4- point game against rival Center Moriches and led Southampton to the Suffolk BCD Class championship and a 14-0 league record.
Trey Robinson, Malverne, F/C, 6-8, Sr.
Combined a passion to score — both on the interior or stepping out to shoot a jumper — with tenacity on the glass as he averaged 17.9 points and 12.4 rebounds.
Jamir Stewart, Baldwin, G, 6-foot, Sr.
Baldwin sends out an army of athletes to play defense. Stewart is the general. He averaged 16 points, 5 assists and 2 steals as the Bruins reached the state public school semifinals.
Derek Varlack, Half Hollow Hills East, G, 5-11, Sr.
Varlack averaged 15.8 points, 7.1 assists, 6.7 rebounds and 3.9 steals for his Suffolk AA championship team. The point guard especially stood out in losses to eventual NSCHSAA finalists Chaminade and Holy Trinity, and again in the postseason, helping power comeback wins against Ward Melville and Brentwood.
CJ Williams, Friends Academy, C, 6-8, Jr.
A smart player with great poise, he averaged 9.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots and had double-doubles in every postseason game as Friends reached the state public school title game.