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Swanson, Gustavsson preparing for final high school event at Lions All-Star games
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Swanson, Gustavsson preparing for final high school event at Lions All-Star games

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 At first glance, attempting to forge a competitive basketball team in under a week would seem only slightly less difficult than running a marathon in showshoes.

While conceding that preparing for the Lions All-Star basketball games is a task, Bismarck High School graduate Gunner Swanson says it's not as foreboding as it might seem. To some degree, he points out, the foundation has already been built.

 "We've been playing with and against each other, and then we have summer ball," he noted.

 The number of high school teammates on the boys and girls all-star teams is quite limited. The Class A girls team includes four sets of teammates, the Class B boys have two sets, the Class B girls team has one and the Class A boys team has none.

 But AAU summer ball is another matter.

 "I know every one of those guys on the Class A roster and I've played with more than half of them," Swanson noted. "A lot of us have good relationships and we keep in touch when we can."

 "In the past I played (summer basketball) with ECI ... and a bunch of us get together and run 5-on-5 at the Y. We try to stay in shape as best we can. ... We shouldn't be (rusty), but I guess we'll see what happens," Swanson observed.

 Sydney Gustavsson, a Mandan High School graduate who will play for the Class A girls team, says she's played summer basketball since she was in the sixth grade. From that experience she's learned that instant teams are doable.

 "This is not something new. ... This last (summer) season we practiced like twice," Gustavsson noted. "It was crazy, but we all live and breathe basketball. We're all putting in time now by ourselves to prepare for the games."

 Gustavsson noted the coaching staffs for the all-star teams aren't dealing with beginners.

 "We should click. We're all competitors and we all know what we're here for," she said.

 Swanson, 6-foot-5 is headed for the University of Mary to play basketball. He was twice named to the All-West Region basketball team. As a football player, he was all-region twice and all-state once. Still, he said playing in the Lions All-Star game isn't really a goal. He said it's more like a desire.

 "I grew up watching the all-star games and I wanted to be part of it. ... When they asked me, of course I wanted to do it. It's a great achievement," he noted.

 While he feels honored to be playing with and against a group of select basketball players, Swanson expects the games to be competitive. He said it's just the nature of successful players.

 "I don't like to lose, at all. When I step on the court at game time it's 100 miles-per-hour. There's no point in being out there if you're not trying your hardest and doing your best," he said.

 "I have a good relationship with most of these guys, and getting to play basketball with them should be fun," he added.

 Swanson, who has signed to play basketball at the University of Mary, looks upon the opportunity to play one more high school game in Bismarck as a bonus.

 "It's definitely special to be playing in Bismarck," he noted. "We have the BHS fans, the local high school fans and the support system of family and friends, which makes a really good feeling for this game."

 Gustavsson, 5-8, plans to attend Bismarck State College, where she will play basketball and softball. She was an all-region selection in basketball, softball and volleyball as a senior and said playing in an all-star game has been a long-held dream of hers.

 She played on the winning West team in the three-game state all-star softball series last month and has two basketball games ahead of her.

 "I always went to the all-star games. It was a goal of mine to play in one," Gustavsson said.

 "I grew up playing with all these seniors. I'm looking forward to playing with them. ... You want  to play with the best of the best all on one team against a good opponent," she said.

  With 10 elite athletes on the floor at all times, Gustavsson said it'd doubtful that the all-star basketball games will be mere exhibitions.

 "It's our last opportunity to play with high school girls and our chance to go out and show what we've got. ... These girls are competitive and they want to win. You're always looking to win," she said. "Most of us are people who excel in multiple sports, so we're born with a competitive side."

 Gustavsson looks at the all-star basketball series as a unique event, a high school-college hybrid.

 "Most of these girls are going off to play college basketball, so it's going to expose me to the skill level of college basketball. I do look at it as a bridge between the two," she observed.

In 2019, when the Lions All-Star games were last played, the boys teams split and the Class A girls swept their two games.

 This year's series begins Monday night at Legacy High School and concludes in West Fargo on Tuesday. Both sessions are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

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