COLORADO SPRINGS — When the name Ghassan Nehme is uttered in the vicinity of south 21st Street in Colorado Springs, there's often a taken aback look from any passerby on the street.
"That's a name I haven't heard in a long time," they might say.
It's only been five years, but when looking at the win/loss records for the Cheyenne Mountain boys basketball since then, it's felt like an eternity. When Nehme was scoring at will (27.1 points per game in 2013-14) for the Indians they were winning games. And getting close to winning state championships.
Now, for the first time in five years, people on the southwest side of town are talking about Javonte Johnson and the success that he's helping Cheyenne Mountain find on the hardwood.
And it's been a long time coming.
"Ever since I got here, I knew he was in eighth grade at that time and he was in the pipeline," coach Elgin Fitzgerald said. "The work ethic he has, getting better - I mean he does that every single day. He works harder to get better."
When Nehme graduated, then coach J'on St. Clair also departed Cheyenne Mountain and headed back to Rampart. The next year was rough as Cheyenne went 4-19. The following year Fitzgerald took over as coach and got the team moving forward, going 10-13 by the time the year was over.
The next two years the Indians still finished below .500 but they had made the postseason both times.
Last year, the 2017-18 season, there was something noticeably different. A sophomore guard who had played modest minutes as a freshman was averaging over 16 points a game. He was worth keeping an eye one.
A year later, Johnson is well worth the price of admission to Cheyenne Mountain boys basketball game.
"I like it," Johnson said. "It's been a lot of work over the summer and it's starting to pay off this year."
From the opening tip of the opening game this year, Johnson made sure everyone was paying attention to what he could do. He dropped 40 points on Widefield on Nov. 27. He nearly scored 40 again when the Indians beat Pueblo County 79-67.
"We haven't had an individual player of his caliber since (Nehme) was here," athletic director Kris Roberts said. "The thing that makes us a pretty solid ball club is that everyone plays hard and we have an individual player who leads and shares the ball. There is an excitement and an energy that I haven't felt since we had that group and made that run (in 2014)."
To say that Johnson is unselfish is no lie. If he's not getting looks to score, he'll find an open teammate so the Indians can get off a high-percentage shot. He works every bit as hard on the defensive side of the ball, especially considering Cheyenne Mountain presses all game with a full court 1-3-1 zone.
He's aware of the talent he has, but he's never above putting himself over the team.
"If I'm open I'm going to do what I do," Johnson said. "If our opponent isn't letting me get the ball I trust the other guys to make something happen so it's all cool."
From his spot on administration row, Roberts even noted that he thinks this team is deeper than that team that made it to the Final 4. The possibilities that come with the 2019 version of Cheyenne Mountain are intriguing, even if they have to go through the top team in Class 4A who just happens to play in their league.
Johnson knows how strong Lewis-Palmer looks. He also knows that he has a chance to claim the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference as his turf for the next two years. But it all comes down to how he performs against the best the state has to offer.
He has prepared himself for over a year with that thought in mind. He doesn't keep his mindset on one team or one game, but rather an overall picture.
His 37 points in Tuesday's 78-69 win over Discovery Canyon (29 of which came in the second half) came with as much determination and focus as whatever he ends up doing against other teams playing on a level as high as L-P.
"They're all the same," Johnson said. "Right now they're all league games so they're equally as important. We have to win them all."
And if they can win them all then this Cheyenne Mountain team will certainly bring a feeling of nostalgia from that 2014 squad. But before anyone gets carried away, Fitzgerald just wants to make sure the team is playing consistent and Johnson is doing his part to help the team be involved and come away with a win.
"It's a long way away," Fitzgerald said. "But having a guy like Javonte gives us a chance each night. He'll be the focal point for those other teams and he does a great job of getting others involved."
Heading into Thursday's game, Johnson was averaging 24.9 points per game, good enough for third overall in the state. He mixes in 10.3 rebounds along the way. He assertively sets the tone for the Indians each game.
And with the way he's playing, that tone will ring deep into the 4A playoffs.