With Neemias Queta back in the fold for at least one more season, the odds of Utah State defending its Mountain West men’s basketball title have greatly increased.

The league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year made big strides in his first year with the Aggies. He is expected to continue to improve and recently tested the professional waters, having declared for the NBA draft and then withdrawing his name. Queta was one of 66 athletes invited to the NBA combine in Chicago earlier this month.

Queta joins fellow returning starters Sam Merrill — the MW Player of the Year — Abel Porter and Brock Miller. Diogo Brito — who was in the running for the league’s Sixth Man Award — and Justin Bean played significant roles off the bench during the 2018-19 season. They are expected to do the same this upcoming season.

Seniors Quinn Taylor and Dwayne Brown Jr. graduated. Guards Tauriawn Knight and Crew Ainge left the program shortly after the past season ended, and now forward Ben Fakira has joined those two guards in departing.

USU head coach Craig Smith confirmed Tuesday that Fakira has returned to Australia to concentrate on school. The 6-foot-10 freshman saw action in 15 games last season, averaging 1.4 points and 1.5 rebounds in 5.4 minutes of action.

There are several additions that will be battling for time and filling the spot left by Fakira. Klay Stall (6-10) and Roche Grootfaam (6-8) are already in the program. They missed last season with injuries, but have been cleared to start working out.

Recently the Aggies signed 7-2 center Jakub “Kuba” Karwowski from the junior college ranks. Earlier this spring, 6-8 guard Sean Bairstow was signed, and he has four years of eligibility.

Last fall, USU signed 6-7 junior college guard Alphonso Anderson and three players from the high school ranks in 6-9 forward Liam McChesney, 6-8 forward Cade Potter and 6-4 guard Landon Brenchley. Potter and Brenchley will serve missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints before enrolling at USU, while McChesney is expected to contribute during the 2019-20 season.

 

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.