Keith Archer
ASU Student Journalist

Corona del Sol's Neil MacDonald is more than just a high school coach

March 2, 2023 by Keith Archer, Arizona State University

"He is a guy that's just grinded for his entire adult life to do what's best, not only for his family, but for his community and for Corona del Sol." (Keith Archer photo/AZPreps365)

Keith Archer is an ASU student journalist in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications assigned to cover Corona del Sol.

For much of the last decade, Neil MacDonald has been the head coach for the Corona del Sol boys basketball team, but he offers more than your typical high school coach.

MacDonald, the youngest of six, had high aspirations as a young man. He had dreams of one day becoming a head coach. During his collegiate career at Arizona State, he was part of the men's basketball program as a team manager. As a sophomore, he got promoted to head manager and was put on scholarship. Traveling the world, he met coaches he couldn't have imagined meeting such as former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano.

That was only the beginning.

Following MacDonald's time at Arizona State, he landed his first head coaching job in Europe. After landing the job in 1990, MacDonald wrapped up his life in Arizona and moved to Sweden.

The opportunity came about because a coach in Sweden had asked if he knew about any players he could add to his roster. MacDonald introduced his roommate (a point guard for Arizona State) to the coach. That good deed would eventually pay him back, with that same coach calling him back around when his former roommate arrived, asking if he knew anybody who would want to coach. With MacDonald's knowledge about his roommate, he knew he wouldn't want to be a player's coach, he knew this was a role he could fit. 

"I was open to anything,” said MacDonald. "I mean, I honestly just wanted to coach basketball. So, when they say, 'Hey, we're going to pay you,'' and you get to be with your best friend in Sweden’ -- it's kind of hard to turn down." 

MacDonald has always embraced every opportunity,  especially those with unique circumstances. Eventually, MacDonald's tenure ended in Europe, and he returned to the States and became an assistant head coach. MacDonald was beginning to start a family and figured an assistant's job would help ease him into this new life rather than a full-time head coaching gig.  

MacDonald has three children, two of which were diagnosed with autism, and MacDonald knew a head coaching job wasn't fitting because of the time requirement. MacDonald had two friends of 30 years who he said he was blessed to have in his life, and they both allowed his boys to be a part of what they were building. That meant the world to him. His two sons would become team managers for the Gilbert High School basketball team and, for their senior night, both suited up to play. 

"They both got in, and they both scored, one of them scored a layup at the buzzer and the crowd … I cried like a baby. I mean, it was more than we ever expected. What they did for them, it was the greatest thing I've ever seen in a high school basketball game," said MacDonald. 

It has always been bigger than basketball for MacDonald, and moments like that are why he became a high school coach. He was vocal about wanting to treat the kids how he would like people to treat his kids. That's how he was raised.

"He's looking beyond basketball, but he's using basketball as a tool to get all the fun, foundational life things going for these young people," said his assistant coach Andrew Svorinic. 

MacDonald is also an English teacher. MacDonald epitomizes giving back to others to ensure they can have the best life possible, just as he did. 

"I played 13 years professionally overseas, and he is a guy that's just grinded for his entire adult life to do what's best, not only for his family, but for his community and for Corona del Sol," said assistant coach Russ Hinder. 

MacDonald has never made excuses but instead relied on staying true to his core values of honesty, trustworthiness and giving back to others.