COLORADO SPRINGS – article by Vinny Benedetto, Gazette Preps
Javonte Johnson pulled up and called his shot as a freshman at Cheyenne Mountain.
During the year he averaged 5.7 points per game for the Indians’ 9-16 varsity basketball team, Johnson watched guys like Sand Creek’s D’Shawn Schwartz, Vista Ridge’s Hunter Maldonado and Sierra’s CJ Jennings run the Colorado Springs prep basketball scene and accept college scholarships to Colorado, Wyoming and West Texas A&M, respectively. Johnson wanted the same.
To give some permanence to his efforts, he coined the phrase “On Top Next.” He soon recruited a friend and teammate from elementary school, who happened to be another budding prospect, to join the basketball collective. Johnson and The Vanguard School’s Nique Clifford still include the “OTN” acronym in their twitter handles as they head into their senior year.
“It’s definitely helped me and Javonte a lot,” Clifford said. “I keep remembering that’s what we’re striving for. We work out a lot, so we definitely push each other.”
The mantra appears to be working.
Johnson is listed as the nation’s 119th-ranked prospect and a four-star recruit on 247Sports. He’s claimed offers from the likes New Mexico, Denver, Northern Colorado and Montana. He took his first official visit to check out the Lobos’ program in June.
“The visit was good. I really liked it,” Johnson said. “I got to really talk with the head coach and some of the other coaching staff as well as some of the players. And I also got to do some workouts with them, so that was pretty cool as well, but in all, it was just a really great experience.”
Johnson could soon visit Montana, Boise State and possibly Nevada, he said.
Clifford, also regarded as one of the top prospects in the state, lists offers from Colorado State, Air Force, Northern Colorado, Wyoming, Denver, San Jose State and Metro State.
The Courser rising senior plans to let the rest of July play out before he sets his official visits, noting there are a couple of big tournaments this month that could lead to more offers.
“I’ve been working for this since I was 3 years old,” Clifford said.
“To see it come to life is really special, and I’m beyond blessed to have offers.”
Though the pair goes back to elementary school and the families are so close the dads call the other’s son “nephew,” they haven’t teamed up since middle school. Clifford started kindergarten at Cheyenne Mountain School District’s charter school because of the proximity to his father’s workplace and never left. When their childhood club team disbanded and it came time for AAU ball, they decided to do their own thing. Clifford’s spending the important summer before senior year with Colorado Miners, while Johnson plays for Billups Elite after previously playing for Kansas City-based AAU program KC Run GMC.
Now, they have the opportunity to be teammates at the next level with both holding offers from DU and UNC. Though each plans on doing what’s best for himself, the partnership could work. Most coaches see Clifford as a combo guard at the next level with Johnson projecting more on the wing. Both possess the ability to drive the lane and finish with a dunk, pull up and score on mid-range shots and extend their range beyond the arc. With Johnson listed on 247Sports at 6-foot-6 and Clifford at 6-foot-4 on the Coursers’ MaxPreps page, college coaches believe both will have an ability to guard multiple positions at the next level.
Who they’ll play for in college is to be determined, but both will have the opportunity.
“I’m super excited and also super excited for Nique,” Johnson said. “We’ve been playing and training with each other since elementary school and have always talked and dreamed about playing at the Division I level and it’s cool to see that we will both be able to fulfill that.”
Before long, “On Top Now” might be more appropriate.