Nicolet — Junior guard and NOW All-Suburban Player of the Year Ashley Green was just one of the crowd on the talented Knights team last year.
Talented to be sure, she really didn't stand out in a group of overachieving sophomores and freshmen who helped the Knights girls claim a share of the North Shore Conference crown in 2008-09.
But then she, like the rest of the Nicolet team, decided to get better in the off-season.
In a big way.
To paraphrase hapless rookie pitcher Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins) in one of cinema's classic comedic essays on baseball "Bull Durham," Green then "announced her presence with authority" when she hit eventual Southeast Conference co-champ Muskego with 34 points in the first game of this past season in November.
From then on, Green was no longer just "one of the crowd."
"We had our meetings with (Coach) Corey (Wolf) at the end of that season (2008-09) and she told all of us that we had to get better," Green said. "As a team and individually.
"I just took that to heart."
So much so, that this winter it always seemed that Green was making the perfect 'no-look' pass, always hitting the deep, baseline 3-pointer and always, always seeming to be there for the easy putback.
Relentless work ethic
But as easy as she made that look, it never was quite that way, because it was her relentless work ethic that made her the most indispensable part of a 20-2 North Shore Conference champion this season.
"I think Ashley is driven by winning," Wolf said. "She just wants to win, and she'll do whatever it takes to get it done, be it scoring 30 points, defending the opposition's best player or going into a crowd and coming out with the rebound.
"She just made the realization that she had to be a difference-maker."
And she was, also earning first-team Division 1 Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association All-State honors as well as Associated Press overall second-team all-state honors after posting 16 points and seven rebounds a game this season.
She drew all this attention to herself despite being a person who abhors the spotlight, and who is still upset at the Knights' surprising loss to Oak Creek in the WIAA sectional semifinals three weeks ago.
"All this stuff is nice, but I'd trade it all in for a minute for a state title," she said flatly. "It (the loss to Oak Creek) still hurts."
Which, as no surprise to anyone, will drive her to become even better next year.
"Three things about Ashley," said Whitefish Bay coach Greg Capper. "One is that that group really learned how to play together this year, and it was fun to watch them play together and use other's strengths so well. Ashley was a big part of that.
"Two, is her ability to drive and score," Capper said. "I watched the second half of the Vincent game (a loss to the 2007-09 state champs that came right after the Muskego win). She was absolutely ferocious going to the basket. Just fearless.
"Three, she was kidding me before the first game with us. 'Remember, I'm the one without an outside shot,' " Capper said. "Well, that's not the case anymore. She can now hit the 15-footer and the 3-pointer without skipping a beat (she hit 58 percent from the field for the season)."
Focus was on improving
And it all goes back to that meeting with Wolf after 2008-09.
She wanted to improve her shot, so she started working with her Prestige AAU team coaches on how to do that.
"They gave me a lot of different drills to work on, because, admittedly, my shot was pretty bad," she said. "I'd work on one shot for awhile, move out a bit, work on that and go from there."
Green also agrees that the team became a very cohesive unit this year. One that frustrated and panicked other teams with a frantic, pressing manner that resulted in frequent turnovers, beautiful passes and easy run-outs.
"Sometimes it was so easy, it seemed like we had a twins sort of vibe going," she said. "We just seemed to know where the others were."
It doesn't hurt the process that Green has the quickness to be a key member of the track team's high-level sprint relays (she'll rejoin the track team after spring break).
And as for her ability to be seemingly every where at once, well that's simple.
"It's just who I am," she said. "I go 110 percent all the time in whatever I do, be it school or sports. It's just in my blood."
And her blood will be up next season. The Knights will be dominated by seniors, including Green, and so the pressure to gain that elusive state title will be really on (Nicolet graduated only one senior in each of the last two seasons).
"We'll get going right away (in the summer)," she said. "We have a team in the UWM camp. We'll do that all July and get together for summer gyms, too.
"We have a lot of work to do."
Green steps up
Nicolet All-Suburban selections
2010: Ashley Green, guard, Player of the Year
2009: Corey Wolf, Coach of the Year
2005: Simone Berry, forward; Asia Beckum, guard.
1999: Lindsay Bronson, guard
1998: Lindsay Bronson, guard
1996: John Gustavson, Coach of the Year
1995: Corey Bronson (Wolf), guard
→ Meet the team: Profiles of the players. Page 32
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