Neemias Queta, Sam Merrill and Aggies in the NBA Finals | Sports

Former Utah State star center Neemias Queta celebrated winning the NBA Finals as a member of the Boston Celtics, becoming the the second Aggie in four years to win an NBA championship, joining his college teammate Sam Merrill who won a title with the Milwaukee Bucks back in 2021.

Queta and Merrill etched their names into Aggie lore by winning two Mountain West Tournament titles and one regular season conference championship with Utah State in two years as teammates. They also reached high levels of individual success, Merrill winning the Mountain West Player of the Year award in 2019 and becoming Utah State’s second all-time leading scorer alongside being top five in 10 other statistical categories. Queta earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year and two Defensive Player of the Year awards and set new USU records at USU for career blocks (219) and blocks per game (2.5). The pair combined for six All-MW selections, five All-MW Tournament honors and two MW Tournament MVPs.

That success helped propel both into the NBA which restarted the Aggie pipeline into the NBA that had been dormant for decades. When Merrill was taken 60th overall in the 2021 draft, he became the first former Aggie selected since 1982. Queta made it two straight years of USU players being drafted by being taken 39th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Just being drafted wasn’t the only drought Merrill and Queta have now ended. Queta earned the most recent NBA title for former Aggies but it was Merrill who first broke through with his 2021 title. That made Merrill the first-ever Utah State alumnus to win an NBA Finals as a player.

The impact of Merrill and Queta on those respective Finals victories is admittedly rather light. Neither were in the playoff rotation and each only appeared in one game in the Finals itself. Merrill didn’t even record a stat in the one minute he played in Game 3 of a blowout win by the Bucks over the Phoenix Suns. Queta did slightly better, recording one field goal and a block in the five minutes he played in Game 4 of this year’s series, and it gave him the distinction of being the first Aggie to record points (or any stat) in the NBA Finals.

Although Merrill became the first Aggie to win an NBA title, he was not the first to win a major American professional basketball championship. That honor belongs to Marvin Roberts. In 1975, Roberts won the ABA championship with the Kentucky Colonels. Unlike Merrill and Queta, his contributions were notable as he appeared in all five games of the Colonels’ 4-1 series win over the Indiana Pacers. Roberts played 25.8 minutes per game, averaging 15.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in the series with his best game being a 19-point, seven-rebound, four-assist performance in a Game 1 victory for Kentucky.

So, have any other former USU players had a shot at glory in the NBA or ABA playoffs? Well, aside from the trio of Queta, Merrill and Roberts, there have only been a handful of Aggies to even play in NBA games. According to Basketball Reference, there are only 11 former Utah State players to play in at least one game (another 18 former Aggies were drafted by NBA/ABA teams but never stepped foot on the court in an official game).

Nate Williams (NBA career from 1972-79) is probably the most unfortunate in terms of playoff success since despite being the Aggie with the most NBA games and minutes played he never appeared in the playoffs at all. Ariel Maughan (1947-51) and Shaler Halimon (1969-73) played in playoff series but never made it to the Finals. Three other former Aggies have appeared in the playoffs, but not Finals, those being Bert Cook (the 1955 season), Pat Dunn (1958) and Hal Hale (1968). Larry Bruce (1968-69) and Desmond Penigar (2004) are in the same boat as Williams in that they played in the NBA/ABA but did appear in the playoffs.

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