Utah State basketball big man Neemias Queta finally has his feet under him

Utah State center Neemias Queta (23) looks to shoot as UNLV forward Nick Blair (20) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)

Logan • The Utah State basketball team has a gem in Neemias Queta.

Since his arrival in Cache Valley from Portugal, the sophomore center has turned plenty of heads. He had a breakout freshman season that caught the eyes of NBA front offices, netting him an invitation to the Draft Combine and even a workout with the Utah Jazz.

His declaration for the 2019 NBA draft was short-lived. But the experience gave him valuable insight into what parts of his game need to improve.

“I felt I wasn’t going to lose anything,” Queta told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It would be more of a learning experience for me.”

Coaches and scouts told Queta he needed to get stronger and develop a better shot outside the paint. He was ready and willing to do that, but his chances of a standout second season with the Aggies stalled when he injured his knee over the summer during an international basketball tournament.

Queta missed the first month of the 2019-20 season rehabbing his knee, which did not require surgery. That time was difficult for him, he said, particularly during the moments when he felt healthy enough to return to action.

“All you want to do is just come back and play,” Queta said. “You know you shouldn’t, but you feel like you can. That’s really hard.”

Queta said there was a point in his recovery where he felt great and was “weeks” ahead of schedule. But he suffered a setback, putting him weeks behind. He credited his teammates for helping him get through the hurdles of the rehab process.

Two of those teammates are Diogo Brito and Klay Stall, who are also Queta’s roommates. Queta described them as being his “parents” as he recovered from the injury. They’d help him climb to their upstairs apartment. Brito would endure tight spaces in the backseat of Stall’s car because Queta couldn’t bend his leg very far.

“I feel like our duty as friends, and anybody’s duty, is to help somebody that’s in need,” Brito told The Tribune. “We just made sure that he was always with a positive attitude.”

Lately, Queta has looked like the Queta of last season. He’s scoring more, athletically blocking shots and getting more playing time. He’s played back-to-back games of 36 minutes, his highest total of the season.

In Wednesday’s win over UNLV, Queta scored a season-high 21 points and tied his season high of five assists. He’s scored in double digits five of the last seven games.

Queta’s recent play has at least some NBA draft prognosticators buzzing again.

“I would say Neemias is definitely trending in a positive direction,” Sports Illustrated NBA draft insider Jeremy Woo said. “The injuries kind of stalled some of his momentum, but now that he’s got the knee brace off and has been able to string some games together, I would say he’s back on track to come out and get drafted, especially if they [the Aggies] finish strong.”

Queta is up to 245 pounds — up from about 218 at the end of last season — and has shown he’s not afraid to not only take the midrange shot, but shoot 3s as well. In a recent game, his first attempt was a 3-pointer and he drilled it.

But some think those improvements, which haven’t been eye-popping, aren’t enough of an indication of Queta’s current viability as an NBA player.

“Teams are losing interest in centers who can only play the 5 position and can’t shoot,” Bleacher Report NBA draft writer Jonathan Wasserman said. “Nice to see his free-throw percentage rising, but realistically it’s going to be an uphill battle to convince a team to use a draft pick on him given the injuries and no sophomore dominance or development.”

Queta said he is not focused on this summer’s draft and will decide after Utah State’s season whether he will declare again. But at least one of his teammates think he’s already primed for the next level.

“He’s been putting [in] the work,” Brito said. “I think he has every tool to be a very good player in the NBA.”

Utes reporter Josh Newman contributed to this story.

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