It's been a quick but eventful five years since Nicolet's stunning version of the 'Fab 5' won its WIAA D1 state girls basketball title in 2011.
Rarely has a starting unit like center Alex Cohen; forwards Ashley Green and Gaby Bronson; and guards Brittney Fair and Courtney Smith fit so well and achieved all their goals in such amazing fashion.
Their competitive fires continued to burn bright as they carried their love of hoops and school right into college.
Last year, I did a piece on the front line of Cohen, two-time Now All-Suburban Player of the Year Green and Bronson as all of them graduated in that title year of 2011. They separated when they went to college but maintained the selfless attitude that helped make them successful.
In different ways, they all had successful collegiate careers. Furthermore, all of them earned degrees —Cohen at Northwestern, Green at UW-Milwaukee and Bronson at UW-Parkside.
Fair and Smith, both of whom were juniors that title year, are doing the same. They came back their senior year at Nicolet to claim another North Shore Conference title in a thrilling roller-coaster season that was marked by heart-stopping finishes and amazing rallies.
The silky-smooth shooting guard Fair would earn All-Suburban and all-state honors and finished as Nicolet's all-time leader in points (1,252), games (97), 3-point baskets (137) and steals (287). She would go on to be a teammate of Bronson's at Parkside for some years, while the irrepressible 5-3 point guard Smith (she always played much bigger than she was) would head out east to Lincoln University in Philadelphia after finishing a prep career as defensive stopper and finishing third in career steals.
They, like their older, front-line teammates, would take different roads to success. Rarely have things been easy, rarely have things been simple, but they are both en route to graduating, both having made their mark on the hoops world.
If Fair feels sorry for herself, you wouldn't know it. There are no braces on the knees like those that mark her old action photos on the Parkside website, which is an impressive enough feat unto itself.
Early in her freshman year of 2012-2013, she suffered an ugly injury that involved the tearing of femur cartilage in her left leg. It would require two surgical procedures and and would cost her not only that season but the following year as well — a total of 16 months, she said.
She finally came back healthy for the Rangers' successful 2014-15 season, teaming with Bronson to help the team post a 22-8 record and earn an NCAA DII national tournament berth. Fair and and Bronson would combine for 30 points in the season-ending loss to Lewis in the first round of the national tournament.
That game was the closing shot to Fair's first complete collegiate season as she averaged 6.3 points and 2.1 rebounds a contest while collecting a team-high 44 steals.
She was all ready to build on that fine finish when she got hit by another setback near the start of practice last fall. She suffered a small tear in the meniscus of her right knee, and that cost her eight games.
Fair finally got back to action in mid-December and did improve on her numbers from the year before, averaging 8.8 points per game and around three rebounds and three assists a contest as the Rangers finished at 13-14.
And though school has gone amazingly well, and she could graduate this spring with her degree in psychology and sociology (she has a 3.4 GPA), the basketball Jones are not out of her system yet. She has applied for and received a medical red-shirt and will come back for one more season in 2016-17.
'Everyone has been so wonderful down here (about her injuries),' Fair said. 'Very patient. Now the knees are healthy and good to go ... I feel that I'm just as quick as I've always been. No braces for me.'
After she graduates, she intends to head out east for graduate school with the idea of getting into social work.
She said she still keeps in touch with her former Nicolet teammates and is especially impressed by their achievements.
Fair is still very proud of the work that went into that state title.
'We started out a little iffy together (in terms of personalities),' she said, 'but then we put it on the court and got it done for Nicolet. After that, we became friends; we enjoyed hanging out together.'
Smith has found a home in Philadelphia and is likely to stay out east after she graduates this spring with her degree in early childhood education.
She was a quick study for the Lions. She appeared in 28 games her freshman year of 2012-13 and started 24, averaging 6.1 points with 66 steals. She overcame a bad case of homesickness that year before becoming more comfortable in her new surroundings.
Her sophomore year, she played all 28 games and started 26, averaging 7.9 points per game, 2.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists. She had a great junior year as the team went 22-9, and she led the team in scoring nine times.
Smith then finished things out well this season, averaging 10.6 ppg. with 51 assists and 45 steals in 24 games as a co-captain on a team that was working with a new coach. Her first injury issue, a hamstring problem, cost her a couple of games.
The key stat on the year for her was a career-high average of four rebounds a game. It's just part of her make-up never to back down to an opponent no matter how much taller she may be.
The highlight of the season was a crazy, double-overtime win on senior night against Elizabeth City State as Smith sank two clutch free throws at the end of the first OT to get the Lions to the second overtime session. The Lions' final record was 14-12.
Smith can't believe it's finally all over.
'The time really did just fly by,' she said, 'and the college experience was better than I ever could have possibly imagined. School was great with small class sizes.'
Graduation will be next month. She's mulling over prospects of either going overseas for a year to play more basketball or to seize on some teaching opportunities in the area.
She added that the best thing college did for her game was to improve her confidence.
'Everyone goes through slumps,' she said. 'You just have to remember that you have teammates to back you up.'
She keeps up with her old Nicolet pals, especially through social media, and remains a proud Knight through and through.
'The great thing about that time is that we all had the same goal,' she said. 'Over time, we became friends, we all got along and we really got to know each others' strengths and weaknesses.'