Cueto, who was named the new head boys' basketball coach at Union Hill High School last week, first learned about hard work and dedication while coaching the boys at High Tech High School the last two seasons.
"We had only seven players," said Cueto, the former St. Anthony High School standout who also had a fine career at the University of Richmond. "It was probably my most humbling experience. Many days, I had to suit up for practice, because we didn't have enough kids. None of the other kids wanted to try out. I guess they heard that I was too demanding or something, so they stayed away. I had to be very creative in practice. But the kids bought into everything and worked their butts off. I got to see what hard work really does."
High Tech finished 8-13 last year, losing in the Seglio Division semifinals to Hoboken.
"We gave Hoboken some good games, losing once in overtime," Cueto said. "That wasn't too bad. I'm telling you, those kids at High Tech worked so hard."
In his spare time, Cueto was also coaching the 12-year-old All-Stars from the highly successful St. Michael's AAU program in Union City, spearheaded by Hudson Catholic coach Steve Ricciardi.
"Coaching the little kids teaches you to be patient," Cueto said. "They really taught me a lot. I learned a lot over the last two years."
But now, Cueto's ready for the next challenge, taking over a Union Hill program that has been downtrodden for quite some time.
"They haven't been able to do much in recent years," said Cueto, who takes over for Charlie Rousel, who resigned at the end of last season. "I know this is a challenge, but it's one I'm ready for."
Even though Cueto was making inroads at High Tech and felt comfortable coaching there, the opportunity to take over at Union Hill was a golden one. For one, he's a social studies teacher there, so he's able to take over coaching a program in the building where he works.
"That really means a lot," said the 27-year-old Cueto, who was born and raised in Union City. "It makes it a lot easier being in the school. I also like playing against the better competition. Nothing against the (HCIAA) Seglio, where we were for two years, but I like playing against the bigger schools. It was a great opportunity for me."
Another reason why Cueto was intrigued about the Union Hill coaching job was the fact that he was coming home.
"It means a lot to me to be coming back to my hometown," Cueto said. "Although I chose a different path and didn't go to school here, I'm still a kid from 12th Street in Union City, a kid who grew up here and learned about basketball playing here. I know what it takes and it helps when you've lived the situation. I feel like I have a connection with the kids here. I can speak their language."
Cueto, who is of Cuban descent and is bilingual, has even integrated the Spanish culture on his new team.
"Instead of running banana cuts on the floor, we call them plantain cuts," Cueto said. "They can understand that better. A lot of the time, I find myself speaking Spanish more than English."
Cueto has already begun working with his new team. The Hillers have been playing in the Jersey City Recreation High School Summer League and own a 6-1 record thus far.
"We started out by having to change the entire culture," Cueto said. "These kids aren't used to winning. They had to learn how to win. But they're a young team who are buying into things right now. We've been conditioning and playing in the Jersey City league. From what I can see so far, they're getting used to me."
Cueto inherits two key players from last year's Hiller squad, namely seniors Richard de la Cruz and Senon Sales, whom Cueto credited for taking over the team's leadership roles.
"They're the two most dependable kids we have, so I made them the team captains already," Cueto said. "They're also both solid players."
The rest of Cueto's team is very young, filled with sophomores and incoming freshmen that have shown some promise already.
"We'll be competitive and that's all I can ask for in this county," Cueto said.
It's also going to be competitive to get Union City kids to come to Union Hill, battling his close friends in the coaching game in the process. His best friend in the world is Steve Ricciardi, Jr., who is the assistant coach at Emerson and whose father, Steve, Sr., coaches at Hudson Catholic. It certainly will lead to some interesting battles this winter.
But the real battle may come inside the Cueto household. You see, Cueto's wife, Vanessa, is an Emerson graduate and a former Bulldog cheerleader.
"I gave her a Union Hill T-shirt the other day and she wouldn't even wear it," Cueto said. "She can't believe I'm coaching at Union Hill. She said she might consider coming to our games, but if I ask her to sit on the Union Hill side for the Thanksgiving Day football game, I've gone too far."
Despite the friends and family issue, Cueto is excited about taking the position.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Cueto said. "It's a challenge, but I love that kind of challenge. I enjoy teaching at Union Hill and I really hope that this is my last coaching job. There's no reason to think that I can't be coaching there for 15 or 20 years."
As long as Vanessa Cueto doesn't mind.
"She'll come around," Carlos Cueto laughed.
Cueto has to hope so, before the season begins in December. At least by then, the annual Turkey Day rivalry will be history for another year.