Isaac and Marcus MacDonald

Isaac (left) and Marcus (right) MacDonald were diagnosed at an early age with Autism, but that hasn’t stopped their love for basketball. As part of senior night on Friday, the twins dressed out for Gilbert High’s game against Higley and scored late in the game to help lift the Tigers over the Knights, 46-33.

It was a surprise Marcus and Isaac MacDonald didn’t see coming.

With Gilbert High’s boys basketball team leading Higley 42-30 late in the fourth quarter, Knights coach Jerome Joseph called timeout and walked over to Tigers coach Jay Caserio.

“I had talked to coach (Caserio) earlier and he had told me what was going on,” Joseph said. “Obviously, when I saw the game was out of hand and there was an opportunity I wanted to give them that.”

Marcus and Isaac, who were honored on senior night ahead Gilbert’s 46-33 win over Higley, ran onto the floor with fellow seniors Carson Towt, Doc Self and Jake Ehmann. Not long after a missed Higley 3-pointer, Marcus had the ball in his hands and drove to the hoop.

“I had to help my brother out on the first one,” Isaac said. “I was definitely excited for that.”

Marcus’ layup went off the backboard and fell into Isaac’s hands, who quickly put up a shot of his own that went in. The crowd erupted as Isaac sprinted down the floor with Towt close behind.

“I started running after him, chasing him,” Towt said. “I thought we were all going to run after him but I was the only one. It was a surreal experience.”

Higley guard Isaiah Eastman quickly hit a 3-pointer on the other end of the floor, leaving 10 seconds on the clock. Marcus, with the ball in his hand again, headed toward the basket. With just seconds remaining, the senior laid it up off the glass for the buzzer-beater.

“Yes, I did get swarmed,” Marcus said. “It was a sense of honor, a sense of pride and adversity as well. It was my first two points of my career.”

It’s not uncommon to find Marcus and Isaac cheering on the Gilbert basketball team from the bench during games. But they aren’t normally dressed in the team’s uniform.

The twins were diagnosed at a young age with Autism, a developmental disorder that impairs both communication and social skills. But that hasn’t stopped their love for basketball.

The twins have been around the game their entire life. Marcus and Isaac played basketball until they were 16 years old, learning the game from their father, Neil, who has been the head coach at Corona del Sol since 2015.

Due to the Gilbert school district’s Autism program, Marcus and Isaac attend Gilbert High instead of Corona with their father.

“The easy decision would have been to bring them here with me so I can watch them every day,” Neil said. “But to have them be embraced by that community like they have been for four years, they’ve gone above and beyond for them.”

Marcus and Isaac quickly became Gilbert Tiger super fans, leading the football team out onto the field and pumping up the home crowd at sporting events.

They became managers of the basketball team their sophomore year and quickly became a part of the Gilbert family. So when the idea to let them dress out on senior night came up, the team didn’t hesitate to make it happen.

“They are a part of our family,” Self said. “These guys are incredible. Their hearts are the purest I have ever seen. The joy they have just radiates, you can’t help but be happy when you’re around them.”  

Marcus and Isaac were presented their jerseys in the locker room ahead of practice on Thursday. Towt and Self, the two senior captains, instructed them to open a pair of lockers which had the jerseys inside.

It took a second for them to realize exactly what was going on. But when they did, they couldn’t help but celebrate with their teammates.

“They’re true Tigers,” Caserio said. “To be that happy every day, it’s amazing. And for coach Joseph to make that decision there, to call a timeout and put the MacDonald twins in, that’s a top-notch move right there in terms of respect.”  

It was a dream come true for the twins, and one neither of them imagined would happen. Neil and his wife, Annica, were overcome with emotion when Marcus and Isaac stepped onto the floor and scored.

After the game, Neil went into the Gilbert locker room to thank each member of the team for giving his sons that opportunity. He knows it’s a moment that will truly stick with them forever.

“For Higley to give up the ball and give them an opportunity, it’s unbelievable,” Neil said. “I always tell my players the single determining factor that will determine your success is how you treat each other.

“What they did tonight for our boys is remarkable.”

As the top-ranked team in 5A, Gilbert (24-1, 9-0) controls its own destiny to clinch the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. The Tigers, who have already clinched the San Tan region title, travel to take on Maricopa (2-20, 0-10) on Tuesday to close out the regular season.  

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at zalvira@timespublications.com and follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.

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