It didn’t take Zaire Baines long to rewrite the Long Island record book.
The Portledge senior star went into Thursday’s game against The Stony Brook School needing five points to become the Island’s all-time leading boys basketball scorer. Just 1:33 had elapsed when he was fouled on a three-point shot and made all three free throws. On the Panthers’ next possession, he drained a three-pointer from the left wing.
That basket sent Baines past the 13-year-old record of 2,799 career points set by Greenport’s Ryan Creighton.
And Baines wasn’t done. He finished with 40 points, giving him 2,835 for his career, and Anthony Follett added 27 as Portledge beat the Bears, 75-53, in a PSAA game at Island Garden in West Hempstead. The Panthers (14-2, 6-0) are alone atop the standings.
Gustav Skogsjo scored 27 for Stony Brook (6-5, 3-2).
When Baines set the record, his teammates exploded with excitement and mobbed him after Stony Brook coach Joe Calabria called a 30-second timeout. Baines wept shortly after being congratulated because it was a day filled with mixed emotions.
Yes, this was his day. But he chose to use it as a way to honor close friend Jo-Jo Wright, the Uniondale star who was tragically killed in a car accident last Jan. 27.
Baines wanted to set the record on the anniversary of the accident that took Wright’s life, and he scripted it out by coming out of Monday’s game after scoring 21 points in the first quarter against Lawrence-Woodmere.
He also has a tattoo on his left arm that pays homage to Wright, who was his backcourt mate with the Heat Elite AAU program. And he eschewed his usual No. 23 jersey against the Bears to wear No. 10, Wright’s number with Uniondale.
"I set this scoring record but I am just trying to live out Jo-Jo’s dream for him," Baines said. "It’s been a hard year. I didn’t just lose Jo-Jo, I lost family members [to COVID-19], and it’s been a lot."
In the crowd of approximately 300 were Baines’ parents, James and Danielle, as well as Wright’s father, Joseph.
After the game, Baines posed with his teammates and a banner that declared him Long Island’s all-time scoring champion. At the bottom of the banner, in gold letters, it said "in loving memory of Jomani (Jo-Jo) Wright."
"A bunch of us were teammates with Jo-Jo on Heat Elite so it was a terrible loss for us all," Follett said. "It was especially for Zaire, but I think he did right by honoring him the way he did."
"He is a class act all the way," Panthers coach Nick Tsikitas said.
Baines became a varsity starter as an eighth-grader and it seemed destined that he eventually would earn this record. However, the Panthers played only three games his junior year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I am a little bit relieved it’s over," Baines said. "You know its going to happen but you have to be careful not to try to make it happen. I sort of let the game come to me today."
Baines had 17 points in the first quarter, hitting four three-pointers. When he made two more on consecutive trips in the second quarter, Portledge was rolling with a 44-17 lead.
"Zaire is just an awesome player," Follett said. "It’s been fun playing with him."
Long Island’s 2,000-point club in boys basketball
2,835: Zaire Baines, Portledge (2017-present)
2,799: Ryan Creighton, Greenport (2004-09)
2,663: Devonte Green, LI Lutheran (2010-16; also played at North Babylon, St. Mary’s, OSNA)
2,613: Ken Wood, East Hampton (1985-89)
2,532: Bobby Hodgson, Floyd (1990-94)
2,320: Greg Cerillo Jr., Faith Academy (1999-2003)
2,312: Aidan Igiehon, Lawrence Woodmere Academy (2014-19)
2,125: Gary Williams, Bay Shore (1989-93)
2,117: Al Edwards, Greenport (1968-72)
2,109: Ahkee Anderson, Center Moriches (2016-20, also played at Greenport)
2,105: Tobias Harris, Half Hollow Hills West (2006-10, also played at LI Lutheran)
2,100: Jarell White, Bellport (2016-19)
2,077: David Mascia, Lynbrook (1987-91)
2,063: Chris Rooney, Smithtown West (1985-89)
2,049: James Pate, Babylon (2003-09)
2,013: Benji Miller, Smithtown Christian (1990-94)