Utah State center Neemias Queta pulling out of the NBA Draft, returning to USU for at least one more season

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies center Neemias Queta (23) controls the ball, as Weber State Wildcats forward Michal Kozak (11) defends, in basketball action in the Beehive Classic, between against the Utah State Aggies and Weber State Wildcats, a the Vivint Smart Home Arena, Saturday December 8, 2018.

The Big Man is back.

And with his return, the outlook for Utah State’s upcoming season should likely feature more games in late March. On Tuesday, USU center Neemias Queta announced he pulled his name out of the 2019 NBA Draft and will return to Logan for his sophomore season. The 19-year-old Portuguese phenom helped transform the Aggies in Year 1 under coach Craig Smith. Queta was named the Mountain West Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year as well as the conference’s Freshman of the Year.

“Aggie Nation,” said Queta in a video posted to his own Twitter account Tuesday morning, “I’m back.”

Queta initially declared for the NBA Draft in April. Under new NCAA rules, student-athletes who are interested in testing the draft waters are now allowed to hire an agent and still return to school, which Queta did. The 6-foot-11 defensive powerhouse was one of 66 athletes invited to the NBA Combine in Chicago earlier this May, where he reportedly met with as many as 11 different franchises.

“It was a great experience to be involved with the NBA Draft combine and it really helped me to know where I need to improve,” Queta said in a news release. “We have a really good team coming back and I’m excited to get stronger and get better.”

Some NBA mock drafts projected Queta creeping into the tail end of the first round, but most had him penciled in as a second-round prospect. His return to USU undoubtedly makes the Aggies a favorite to repeat as MWC champs. The Aggies were co-regular season conference champs and won the MWC tournament in Las Vegas in early March to earn the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2011.

And they wouldn’t have had the meteoric rise in Smith’s first year as head coach without the Portuguese center. Queta’s first year in Logan was a record-breaking one. He rewrote the school’s single-season blocks record with 84. The previous high was 59. His 2.4 blocks per game were the best in the MWC. Queta also had at least one block in USU’s first 29 straight outings, also a school record.

The freshman big also had a team-high 10 double-doubles last season. He averaged 11.8 points per game as well as 8.9 rebounds. A native of Barreiro, Portugal, Queta’s NBA stock continued to rise throughout a fantastic first season in the U.S. But after dipping his toes in the pool, Queta is returning to Logan where the Aggies, who went 28-7 a year ago, only lost two seniors to graduation. With MWC Player of the Year Sam Merrill and Queta back for another go, the Aggies will be the targets of the conference.

“This has been a great process for Neemias. He gained both valuable feedback from NBA personnel and experiences that will help him in the future at Utah State and beyond,” Smith said. “Neemias is a fantastic player, but what sets him apart is his character and what he stands for as a person. I know he loves Utah State University and he can’t wait to get to work.”

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