SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – USU star center Neemias Queta has come a long way from being a raw prospect from Portugal to a future NBA player.
After three seasons with USU, Neemias Queta decided to enter the 2021 NBA Draft and will hire an agent, eliminating his remaining college eligibility. It was a move that was expected as Queta won Mountain West Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year this past season.
The coach who recruited, mentored and coached, Eric Peterson joined the Crimson Corner podcast for a live stream on Friday morning and told a great story of how Queta arrived in Logan and worked his way to becoming an NBA player. Peterson joined the Utah basketball coaching staff when Craig Smith was hired as the head coach.
Recruiting Queta To Utah State
The recruiting process wasn’t that difficult for Peterson and the Aggies. Not a lot of schools offered Queta and Utah State had a need for a big man after Smith and his staff took over for Tim Duryea in 2018.
“I think back to three years ago when we had got hired,” Peterson told KSL Sports. “We didn’t have any interior players and that was a huge need for us. One thing I did is we recruited internationally a lot at the junior college level. That was a huge key for us. Then we got to South Dakota, and we didn’t do it a ton. Talking to people at Utah State, they really wanted diversity and just said, ‘Hey, we can get those kids into school, it’s an easy process.’ So we kind of opened the doors there. I had hit up probably four or five guys that I knew overseas. I said, ‘Hey, who are the top three or four players on your board right now that still want to come to college?’ Because over there, it’s a different market now. There’s a lot of pro teams offering them a lot of money to stay there. I got a text back and there was one name on every single text message and it was Neemias (Queta).”
Then the recruiting process began as Peterson and Smith tried to get Queta to leave his home in Portugal and head to the United States and play college basketball. They inherited a player from Portugal from the last staff in Diogo Brito. That helped recruit Queta to Logan.
“We actually had another Portuguese kid on our team named Diogo Brito,” Peterson said. “They knew of each other and had talked a little bit. One of my biggest selling points to Nemi was you got a big brother here that’s been through it, that can help you adjust to the college game. So I actually went over there, met him and kind of saw where he lived, where he grew up. This was in August, and we had some academic stuff to figure out with him as well. So we got that done. He got here a little bit late in August, so he didn’t have that summer to work out with our team, like most kids do.”
Neemias Had Great Work Ethic That Helped Him Prepare For NBA.
The transformation from his strength and weight to his knowledge of the game grew as he worked with Peterson.
“Nemi got to school, maybe a week late,” Peterson mentioned. “If you saw where he was that first workout, and part of it too was he came to elevation. So he gets flies in, he gets to elevation he gets in late that night, and he works out the next day. Our guys are kind of looking around like ‘we’re taking this dude.’ I always tell people, I was in the gym a lot with Nemi. But Nemi made himself a pro. It takes a lot to show up every single day. Some kids you coach, you have to say, ‘Hey, let’s get in the gym’ or ‘hey, do you want to get in the gym today?’ Nemi was just constantly, ‘Coach, you got film for me?’ ‘Coach, can we shoot this morning at 7am?’ So I tell people he made himself a pro just by his work ethic. I was just there along the ride to kind of mentor him a little bit and just do the skill work with him. So the thing about him and a lot of international players is what we look for is a high basketball IQ and Nemi had it. He really understood the game and when you have those things, playing under Coach Smith, you kind of just take off.”
Queta added about 40 pounds from the time he arrived on campus to now.
“One of the things Nemi did was change his body a ton,” Peterson added. “He came in probably 215 pounds from Portugal. If you looked at a picture of him when he first got on campus to where he’s at now? He’s 255 right now and he’s probably a late first round draft pick. I would say one of the biggest assets to Nemi was our strength coach Logan Ogden. Nemi’s got an NBA body right now.”
Going To The NBA Combine
After a tremendous freshman season in Logan, Queta decided to test the NBA Draft waters and was invited to the combine. Peterson told a great story to KSL Sports about how he was dominated at the combine and the adversity he faced as a sophomore before breaking out as a junior for the Aggies.
“He had a great freshman year and went to the combine,” Peterson said. “I was there and we kind of got some feedback from the NBA guys and they thought maybe he shouldn’t go to the combine. Because when you go to the combine, that’s a lot of people’s first impression of you. So they see you the first time and if you’re not ready, it’s just like recruiting for us. If we watch a kid live two or three times, and he does not perform, typically you’re moving on to the next kid.
“So Nemi gets there and his body’s not where it should be,” Peterson added. “The first matchup he has is against Tacko Fall. Tacko is the largest human being I’ve ever seen, like I was standing next to him before they played and I just cannot believe how big he was and I worked with the bigs my entire life but Tacko, I mean, you just can’t believe how big he is. So Nemi goes against him and gets his butt kicked. He knows he’s got to come back.”
Once the feedback came in and Queta knew he had to improve his game and his body, he decided to play for his national team the summer leading up to his sophomore year.
“That summer, he went and played for the U-20 Portugal national team because the tournament was in Portugal,” Peterson mentioned. “In the semifinal, he partially tears a ligament in his knee. So he didn’t play much of the the second season for us, kind of got back to maybe 80 percent by the end of the second season, knew he was going to come back and play one more year. He had a fantastic year. I mean, he was moving really well, his body looked good. You could just tell it’s time for him to make that next step.”
Peterson hopes to use the success story with Queta at Utah with the Runnin’ Utes and find the next great big man who comes in raw but leaves an NBA player.
“He’s an unbelievable human being, a tremendous leader,” Peterson said of Queta. “I couldn’t be more proud of him. What an unbelievable process, we always tell people, it’s easy to take a five star kid, have him for a year and now he’s an NBA player. You might not have to even do anything with that kid. We’re big on recruiting players that we can develop and have in our program for a while. Just develop those kids into the player that you want them to be and that’s kind of how we approach Nemi. He didn’t have much out of high school. There wasn’t one other school that really wanted to take him. I was like, ‘We want that dude in our program.’ We want guys that are not done getting better, that have their best basketball ahead of them.”
Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASports. You can download and listen to the podcast, here.