Deni Avdija, 18, has all the tools to become the next Israeli basketball player to play in the NBA.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Deni Avdija has definitely had a whirlwind couple of weeks.
First the 18-year old Israeli picked up the MVP award at the NBA and FIBA Basketball Without Borders Camp in Charlotte during NBA All-Star weekend.
Upon his return to the Holy Land last Tuesday, the hoops phenom was picked up by his mother at Ben-Gurion Airport and immediately dropped off at the Israel National Team practice.
On Thursday, he made his Israel senior-team debut and on Sunday he dropped 10 points going a perfect 3-of-3 from the floor (along with 2-of-2 from the foul line).
Not bad for the youngster
There is no question that Avdija is the brightest light among the future stars of Israeli basketball and is being touted to be one of the top picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Talents like Avdija don’t come along too often for the blue-and-white and with his star-studded performance at the Basketball Without Borders Camp, there’s now nowhere to hide.
“I had an amazing week [in Charlotte] that was yet another experience for me along the way, and one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Avdija. “I made a lot of new friends, met new coaches who are of the highest level and it was just a joy to be there for the NBA All-Star weekend. It was incredible to practice at the arena, and the whole event was just terrific.”
As one of the highly touted international prospects, Avdija had the opportunity to challenge others teenagers who will be in the upcoming drafts, including Killian Hayes of France and Khalifa Diop from Senegal.
“The camp was able to help me play a different type of game and I got to know many new players,” said Avdija. “I was introduced to some new styles that I hadn’t seen before and I was able to hold my own in what was an important milestone and benchmark for me.”
Last Thursday, Avdija was called upon by Israel National Team Coach Oded Katash to play critical minutes against Germany in a FIBA World Cup qualifying game.
The Beit Zera native was cool, calm and collected in playing 11 minutes in his debut, during which he scored just one point, but grabbed four crucial rebounds to help the blue-and-white to the win.
“It was great, and an amazing experience being with all of the fans of Israel. It was an important win and it was great to play well in my debut. I’m very proud of my team for the effort and the win. We need to keep it like this and I hope we are going to do good things. It felt amazing,” exclaimed Avdija.
Katash wasn’t afraid to use Avdija with the game on the line and demonstrated confidence in the teenager despite it only being his first game for the squad.
“I really liked how Deni reacted when he missed a couple of shots and I am happy that he took them because he was open,” said Katash. “He had a huge assist and a number of critical rebounds.”
Avdija felt comfortable with Katash’s style as well.
“I really like Oded, he is a great coach,” noted Avdija. “I gave 100 percent all game and when he brought me in I made sure to continue to give all of my effort. I’m very proud of everybody and also myself.”
Although Israel didn’t win in his second game with the National Team on Sunday against Serbia in Belgrade, Avdija played over 16 minutes and scored 10 points.
“I’ll always remember this experience as being my first with the National Team,” said Avdija. “I was able to play well with my teammates. I want to compliment the whole team for having a good campaign and for helping me as well. I believe we will be able to go far in the future.”
Avdija – whose father is from the former Yugoslavia and holds dual Israeli and Serbian citizenship – knew the visit to the Aleksandar Nikolic Hall would be an emotional one, but he felt right at home.
“It’s always great to be in my second home. My father played many games in this arena, so for me it was a great experience to be able to play where he played,” said the younger Avdija.
Slovenian Luka Doncic not only won the Euroleague title with Real Madrid last season to go with the 2017 European Championship, but is in the midst of a superb rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks. Already, Avdija is drawing comparisons to the up-and-coming NBA superstar.
“That says some good things about me,” said Avdija. “I have a lot of respect for Luka Doncic and all of the great things he is doing in the NBA. But each one of us has our own path and journey to take which is different. I respect him, but I believe that I am special in my own way and I’ll be Deni Avdija and will remain special as I go on my path and my journey.”
For now, however, Avdija wants to take it one day at a time as he stares the future right in the eyes.
“Right now I am focusing on my progress at Maccabi Tel Aviv and to play for the National Team. As for the NBA, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents. Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or visit www.sportsrabbi.com. Feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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