Zaire Baines #23 of Portledge, right, gets pressured on defense...

Zaire Baines #23 of Portledge, right, gets pressured on defense by Xavier Lewis #2 of Half Hollow Hills East during the third quarter of a non-league boys basketball game at Chaminade High School in Mineola on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.  Credit: James Escher

Nick Tsikitas wasn’t in the gym the first time his basketball path crossed with Zaire Baines’, but he quickly was made aware of the talent in his hands.

Tsikitas, now the boys basketball coach at the Portledge School, said he ran a non-profit AAU club for children of low income parents out of Seaford. One day, he received a call from Baines’ uncle to see if his nephew could come down for a tryout the summer entering sixth grade. Tsikitas said of course, but because he wouldn’t be there that day, his assistant, Bruno Cotumaccio, would be running the practice.

It didn’t take long for Cotumaccio to recognize Baines’ ability.

“I remember getting a phone call at the practice,” Tsikitas said. “And [Cotumaccio] said, ‘You do what you can, but make sure this kid plays for you.’ ”

Now, despite Baines still being in the middle of his sophomore season at Portledge, the 15-year-old guard is on the verge of scoring 2,000  career points and could be on his way to breaking the Long Island and state scoring record if he continues this pace. He will become just the 15th boys basketball player in Long Island history to reach 2,000 points, and by far the youngest, according to Newsday records.

After scoring 30 points in an 87-68 victory over Our Savior New American on Friday, Baines is two points shy of 2,000. Portledge (13-4) plays at Avenues: The World School on Wednesday.

Joseph Girard III, in his freshman year at Syracuse University after graduating from Glens Falls High School last year, holds the state scoring record with 4,763 points, according to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s online record book.

Ryan Creighton, who played for Greenport from 2004-2009, is Long Island’s leading boys scorer at 2,799 points.

“It’s very exciting and emotional at the same time,” said Baines, a 6-foot guard. “When I got my 1,000th point and we called that timeout, I was crying. I still can’t believe I got 1,000 and if I could break a record, it’s very emotional for me.”

But even as Baines is reaching a mark that might appear inconceivable for someone at his age and varsity experience, the young guard never is focused on his point total.

“It’s funny because we are talking about Zaire and scoring and the kid doesn’t even know how many points he has,” Tsikitas said. “I had to tell him how many points he had. He’s now more concerned with, ‘I want to get my assists up, my steals up, my rebounds up.’ He’s not going to be the kid who says, ‘How many do I have?’ ”

The answer to that question, however, is often simple: A lot. Baines, who is averaging 27.8 points this season, started on varsity as an eighth-grader and averaged 31.7 in his first season. He was used to playing against older competition, so he said going against much older players didn’t bother him much.

“I feel like I have something to prove,” he said. “I always come out with heart. I come out attacking with that mindset that no one can guard you, but not in a cocky way.”

This hasn’t changed throughout Baines’ basketball life, and he puts in the work to back his words. He won’t leave the gym until making 50 shots from each of 10 designated spots on the court, along with doing his ballhandling, cardio and teamwork. Even during lunch periods, the most likely spot you will find Baines is in the Portledge gymnasium.

“My whole thing is if I take a day off, there’s always someone out there the same as me trying to do the same thing I’m doing,” said Baines, who already is receiving Division I interest. “They have the same dreams. So if I take a day off, it’s like they have that one step ahead of me and there are plenty of kids that want to be in the NBA.”

Basketball also has given Baines the opportunity to play top competition across the country, including a head-to-head matchup against LeBron James’ son, Bronny. When the two played during the summer in Las Vegas, Baines was primarily guarding Bronny, holding the basketball prodigy to five points. Baines called the experience “surreal.”

And still, even though Baines is supremely accomplished as a 15-year-old basketball player, he still doesn’t like talking about himself — especially when it comes to point totals. He doesn’t want to be labeled as a scorer only.

“I like to be someone that my teammates love playing with,” said Baines, who also averages 6.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists. “So if I get them involved, I know that they will love playing with me, so I just like to make sure they have fun, too.”

But his innate scoring abilities can’t be overstated, even by his teammates.

“It’s actually amazing for someone his age to do such big things and to just be on the same court as him, I’m just grateful,” said Jahmir Primer, who is Baines’ cousin and is averaging 14.7 points as a junior. “It’s pretty mind blowing that he’s a sophomore and he’s scoring 2,000 points. It’s pretty crazy, but he definitely deserves it.”

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