WEST FARGO — Adam Palczewski and Carter Birrenkott teamed up one final time this week for the North Dakota Lions All-Star Basketball Series.
Palczewski coached the Class A boys team in the all-star games, held Monday in Bismarck and Tuesday at West Fargo, while Birrenkott played alongside the other top players in North Dakota Class A. The reunion gave the Packers boys basketball coach and one of his finest players a chance to reconnect one final time before Birrenkott, who graduated from West Fargo this spring, heads to Minnesota State Moorhead to play football.
“I haven’t seen him much since the season ended,” Palczewski said. “I saw him early in the summer and right around graduation. I’ve been busy doing stuff. My daughter plays AAU basketball in the summer. So I haven’t seen too many of the kids besides the ones that are coming back — we’ve had some camps.”
The Class A boys swept the two-game series with an 81-68 win Monday night in the Lions opener and a 98-89 win over Class B on Tuesday. Birrenkott tallied 17 points in Game 2 to help complete the sweep.
Four months removed from cutting down the nets at Bismarck Civic Center, the coach was able to look back on the career of one of the program's top players and reflect on a historic state championship season with the benefit of hindsight.
“You notice a lot more stuff as you reminisce about it,” Palczewski said. “What the kids did in those three games — they had to play three different styles of basketball. They were behind in the second half in every game at some point.
"To have a group of 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds never doubt themselves and give everything they have for a goal is something special. Only one team wins a state championship every year, they’re very special and very rare. It’s something that I’ll always treasure.”
Palczewski said he didn’t realize it at the time, but he thinks Birrenkott, a 2021 Mr. Basketball candidate, may have had the greatest season in program history. The big man who averaged about 23 points and 10 rebounds per game had an all-time great statistical season and came up big in crunch time. He scored 26, 19, and 21 points in the three state tournament games and made the game-winning basket in the championship game.
“After the season got over, I got to reflect on everything and look at the numbers,” Palczewski said. “Carter Birrenkott probably had the best statistical season in the history of West Fargo basketball. He was No. 2 in scoring, No. 2 in rebounding and won a state championship. It’s hard to have a better year than that.”
Winning the state title also gave the coach a chance to reconnect with people he hadn’t heard from in ages. Palczewski, of course, heard from folks all over the West Fargo community, plus old teachers and classmates from his hometown of Scranton, N.D. People came out of the woodwork to congratulate him on the accomplishment.
“I got a lot of sincere congratulations from a lot of people who have helped me,” Palczewski said. “I got to talk to a guy I coached under 15 years ago in Colorado and probably haven’t talked to in 12 years."
As for Birrenkott’s future, Palczewski — who has quite a bit of experience on the gridiron of his own as a defensive lineman for North Dakota State — thinks the Dragons are adding a special athlete to their football team. Birrenkott, who is set to be a pass catcher at MSUM, set the West Fargo school record with 16 career interceptions and led the team in touchdown catches and yards per catch each of the last three seasons.
Palczewski said he sees Birrenkott working out all the time, preparing himself for the next level. He's witnessed Birrenkott's work ethic and drive firsthand throughout his prep career, and thinks there's a bright future ahead of the recent West Fargo graduate.
“He’s getting ready to work out for the Dragons in the fall," Palczewski said. "I see him out at the field getting his work in. That’s what Carter does. He’s pretty humble, doesn’t need to be seen, he just goes about his work. He’s going to be a really good football player there.”