Utah State center Neemias Queta stayed in Logan during quarantine. Now the Aggies are reaping the benefits from his improved game.
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)
New Mexico Lobos guard Keith McGee drove baseline with designs on getting an easy layup. It was the first half in the second of a two-game series against the Utah State Aggies, who won both matchups, and McGee was about to get a taste of Neemias Queta.
McGee got to the rim, but Queta easily swatted away his attempt. The block marked Queta breaking USU’s all-time record in blocks set by Gilbert Pete at 155 in the late 1980s.
A game earlier against those same Lobos, Queta received the ball beyond the 3-point line as the Aggies got into an offensive set just under four minutes into the fist half. The junior center from Portugal appeared to reject the dribble handoff option and took two hard dribbles before another defender met him just outside the paint. A couple shifty dribbles later allowed him to get right under the rim for a dunk.
Nearly four weeks earlier against Northern Colorado, Queta received the ball in the post and was immediately double teamed. As he took one dribble away from the defense and stayed patient, he saw Marco Anthony spring open and whipped him a pinpoint pass for a layup.
These sequences are indicative of Queta’s growth over an offseason that was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of the Aggies left campus and returned home when basketball was shut down, Queta opted to stay in Logan to work on his game and get stronger to make sure he stayed healthy this season.
“I saw it as a need,” Queta said. “It’s a sacrifice I had to make in order to become better. It was worth it.”
UTAH STATE VS. SAN DIEGO STATE
At the Smith Spectrum
When • Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • CBSSN
Queta’s improvement has shown not just in the eye test, but also in the numbers. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 8.8 rebounds 3.2 assists and 2.8 blocks per game in 26.3 minutes. He unsurprisingly leads the team in rebounds and blocks, but what has stood out is his passing. The 3.2 assists leads the team.
Queta said improving his passing and decision making was one of his main focuses in the offseason. He watched copious amounts of film to try learning from his mistakes and reducing his turnover rate.
Even Queta’s teammates have seen and experienced the fruits of his offseason labor.
“I think the biggest leap that [Queta] has made this year is just the way he sees the game,” junior forward Justin Bean said. “He’s always been really talented. He’s always put in work in the gym. But this year he’s really just locked in to what teams are going to do to him. … He’s just seeing the game a lot differently, especially on the offensive end.”
Senior forward Alphonso Anderson said Queta’s improving passing positively affects everyone on the floor, and even opens him up to make plays for himself.
“It’s big for the team because that helps open him up crazy because when he’s dishing out like that, teams can’t double him,” Anderson said.” One on one, he’s really hard to stop. And then when he’s dishing out when they do try to double him and [he] make[s] plays for others, it’s just a mismatch. So when we feed the ball to him, good things happen.”
Coach Craig Smith recently recalled the first time Queta practiced with the Aggies. The center hadn’t joined the team until a few days after the school year started, so he was behind compared to everyone else on the team that had participated in summer workouts.
It didn’t take long for former Aggies guard Sam Merrill — now with the Milwaukee Bucks — to say Queta made the game “easier for everyone,” Smith recalled. And that notion has only been enhanced in his junior season.
Queta’s shot blocking has reached elite status this season. He’s tallied six blocks in a game on two separate occasions, and now has 156 blocks in his career — and counting. Smith said Queta’s athleticism and weight (235 pounds) have allowed him to get off the floor more swiftly this year.
“I’m not sure what took him so long to break this record, but it truly is amazing,” Smith said of Queta breaking USU’s all-time blocks record.
Queta’s skill development could put in good standing when the next NBA draft comes around. He has already declared once before, but chose to return to Utah State
, giving the Aggies the feeling that with him they can contend for another Mountain West Conference Tournament championship
Aside from his improvement in the offseason, Queta feels he’s playing at a high level because he’s finally back to his old self from a health standpoint. He suffered a knee injury that last season that forced him to miss some games, and he used that offseason to rehab.
But now, he’s feeling better than ever.
“I feel 100% honestly,” Queta said. “I don’t think I have any limitations compared to last year. I just feel good. My body feels really good. I feel like I’m in a good state of mind, too.”