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He's way beyond "Rudy'

Jason McElwain had done everything he was asked to do for the Greece Athena High School basketball team - keep the stats, run the clock, hand out water bottles.

That all changed last week for the team manager in the final home game of the season.

The 17-year-old senior, who is autistic and usually sits on the bench in a white shirt and black tie, put on a uniform and entered the game with his team way ahead.

McElwain proceeded to hit six 3-point shots, scored 20 points and was carried off the court on his teammates' shoulders.

"I ended my career on the right note," he said in a phone interview Thursday. "I was really hotter than a pistol!"

In recent days, McElwain's phone has hardly stopped ringing. When his family went out for a meal, he was mobbed by well-wishers. A neighborhood boy came by to get a basketball autographed.

In addition to his autism, McElwain at 5-foot-6 was considered too small to make the junior varsity, so he signed on as team manager. He took up the same role with the varsity, doing anything to stay near the sport he loves.

Coach Jim Johnson said he was impressed with his dedication, and thought about allowing McElwain to suit up for the home finale.

His performance was jaw-dropping: 20 points in four minutes, making 6-of-10 3-point shots, a school record. The crowd went wild.

"It was truly the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life," said Johnson. "It was as touching as any moment I have ever had in sports."

The story, which calls to mind Hollywood long-shot-makes-good movies like Rudy, has been featured on ESPN, CNN and ABC's Good Morning America.

McElwain didn't begin speaking until he was 5. He lacked social skills but things got easier as he got older. He found many friends and made his way through school in this Rochester suburb, although many of his classes were limited to a half-dozen students. And he found basketball.

As the varsity manager, he never misses practice and is a jack-of-all-trades, his coach said.

"And he is happy to do it," Johnson said. "He is such a great help and is well-liked by everyone on the team."

Even though McElwain was in uniform for the Feb. 15 game, there was no guarantee he would play. Athena was battling for a division title.

The fans, however, came prepared. One section of students held up signs bearing his nickname, "J-MAC," and cutouts of his face placed on Popsicle sticks.

The Trojans opened a large lead against the team from nearby Spencerport. With four minutes left, McElwain took the court to deafening cheers.

"I just wanted to score a basket," McElwain said.

"I'm just sitting there saying: "Let him score just one point,' " said his mother, Deb McElwain.

The ball came to him almost right away. He quickly fired up a 3-point shot - and missed by six feet. McElwain then missed a layup. At that point, Johnson said, he was wondering if he had made the wrong move in putting McElwain into the game.

But the teen's father, David McElwain, said he was unruffled.

"The thing about Jason is he isn't afraid of anything," he said. "He doesn't care what people think about him. He is his own person."

On the next trip down the floor, McElwain got the ball again. This time he fired in a 3-pointer, all net.

He was just warming up.

"As soon as the first shot went in that's when I started to get going," he said.

On the next attempt, he got another 3-pointer. Then another, and another. In fact, he would have made one more 3-pointer, but one of his feet was inside the 3-point line, so the shot only counted for 2 points.

Greece Athena won 79-43, and pandemonium reigned. McElwain signed autographs, posed for pictures and was carried off the floor by his teammates.

The Trojans begin sectional play Saturday and McElwain will be on the bench again, wearing his usual shirt and tie. It doesn't bother him, he said. More important, he said, is "trying to win a sectional title for the team."

McElwain will soon be done with high school basketball. He said he plans to enroll in business management this fall at Monroe Community College.

His mother said she hopes her son's amazing night will have an impact for the rest of his life.

"Once the severe autistic child can break through, they can live in this world. Just like anyone else," Deb McElwain said.

Information from the Associated Press, the Canandaigua, N.Y., Daily Messenger, the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle and R-News television of Rochester, N.Y., was used in this report.