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Utah State center Neemias Queta dunks over Wyoming guard Kwane Marble II in a game this past season.

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Later this week the Aggies are expecting to have a player taken in the NBA draft for the second straight year for the first time in more than three decades.

Center Neemias Queta is expecting to hear his name called Thursday night when the NBA holds the 2021 draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Should that happen, it would mark back-to-back seasons with a Utah State player going in the draft.

Last November Sam Merrill was taken in the second round by the now world champion Milwaukee Bucks. Merrill was the 60th and final pick of the draft, but ended a long drought for the Aggies. Before Merrill, the last USU basketball player to get drafted by an NBA team was Greg Grant in 1986, in the sixth round. The draft is only two rounds now.

In fact, the last time a USU player was taken in at least the second round of the NBA draft was 1981, when Brian Jackson was selected by Portland in the second round. Jackson was also part of a five-year streak of Aggies getting drafted.

Starting in 1978, USU had a player taken for five consecutive seasons. They were Mike Santos (Buffalo, third round), Keith McDonald (Utah, eighth round), Dean Hunger (Houston, fourth round), Jackson and Leo Cunningham (Portland, sixth round). Obviously, there were many more rounds back then which made it easier than the current set up.

Queta, a junior, left USU early and hired an agent. The 7-footer from Barreiro, Portugal, tested the NBA waters after his freshman season with the Aggies after he earned Defensive Player of the Year as well as Freshman of the Year accolades from the Mountain West Conference, but he returned. Injuries slowed the start to his sophomore season. However, he finished strong and had a monster junior season.

This past season, Queta earned his second MW Defensive Player of the Year award after setting USU’s single-game (9), single-season (97) and career block (219) records. Queta’s career total is also tied for third all-time in Mountain West history, matching the University of Utah’s David Foster (2006, 09-11). He balanced his defensive prowess by leading the Aggies in scoring and on the glass, averaging the only double-double in the MW with 14.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest.

In fact, Queta is one of only 10 players since 1992-93 to surpass 95 or more blocks and 75 or more assists in the same season, joining the likes of Tim Duncan, Erick Dampier and Joakim Noah. Queta is one of only two players in the NCAA since 1992-93 to finish the year averaging more than 14.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 2.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game, joining Houston’s Bo Outlaw (1992-93) with that distinction.

Queta finished his career at USU as a three-time all-MW selection, earning a pair of second-team accolades and a first-team honor a season ago. Queta was also one of just three finalists for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award and earned Bleacher Report’s National Defensive Player of the Year award. Queta’s awards following his final year also included AP Honorable Mention All-American, USBWA District VIII Player of the Year and NABC first-team all-district 17.

He was among 69 players invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last month. After a good showing there, Queta has been mentioned anywhere from a late first round to mid second round draftee. Some of the latest prognosticators have him going between the 40th and 50th picks. Sixty players will be drafted on Thursday.

Queta is among 217 athletes that declared for the draft and kept their names in the mix. This is a bit of an odd year as seniors are included. Due to COVID, players, including seniors, had the option to play another year in college. Of the 217 players, eight are international and the rest are from colleges and other educational institutions.

There are five other athletes from MW schools. All of them are seniors and include: Boise State’s Derrick Alston Jr., San Diego State’s Terrell Gomez, Jordan Schakel and Matt Mitchell, and New Mexico’s Makuach Maluach. There is one other player from the Beehive State in BYU’s Matt Haarms, who is also a senior.

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

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