Latest Israeli hoops protégé Deni Avdija finding his wings

The 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Avdija comes from basketball lineage as his father, Zufer, was born in Yugoslavia and captained Red Star Belgrade during the 1980s.

Basketball (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Some have called Deni Avdija the next Omri Casspi. Avdija himself says that he looks at the first Israeli in the National Basketball Association as a role model in whose footsteps he would like to follow, but he also wants to be his own man.
The Israel-born 17-year old with Serbian heritage may very well be the next blue-and-white product to head to the greatest league in the world, but that’s still a few years away when he becomes NBA Draft eligible in 2020. In the meantime, while most kids his age are having a good time in the sun, Avdija will be representing Israel during the months of July and August at a pair of FIBA Youth European Championships, in Germany and Macedonia.
There’s no question that Avdija is one of Israeli basketball’s bright young stars and he’ll be on full display at both the Under-20 and Under-18 tournaments as he continues to sharpen his skills. The prodigy signed a long-term deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv last November and was with the senior team all season long, traveling with the club both in Israel and abroad for Euroleague games.
The 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Avdija comes from basketball lineage as his father, Zufer, was born in Yugoslavia and captained Red Star Belgrade during the 1980s. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Zufer moved to Israel and joined the domestic league, plying his trade with four teams during his eight seasons in the Holy Land.
As a high schooler, it was already clear that Deni was going to be something special as he continued to grow and his play improved. Last summer, his potential began to come to fruition as Avdija took part in the Under-16 European Championships and averaged 15.3 points, 12.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while making his mark across the continent and turning heads beyond.
Although he may not be the quickest player on the floor, Avdija has all of the intangibles and work ethic that will take him to the next level. His three-point shooting, understanding of the game, rebounding, court vision and hoops IQ are well above almost anyone of his age.
In April, Avdija played for Israel at the Under-18 Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Germany and averaged over 17 points to go along with nine rebounds per game while starring with double-double of 26 points and 12 rebounds in the blue-and-white’s surprising win over the United States.
Just last month, Avdija was invited to the prestigious NBPA Top 100 High School Basketball Camp in Virginia which is regarded as the premier basketball event available to elite high school athletes. Since its inception in 1994, over 300 players have gone on to successful careers in the NBA. USA Today profiled Israel’s latest talent with high praise after seeing him at the camp.
“Avdija is one of the few who see the full-court pass in the making and can deliver it on time. He also has true three-point range but still is willing to mix it up inside,” wrote USA Today’s Jim Halley.
With varying styles on display at the camp, Avdija tried his best to play his game.
“It’s harder to show here because I came from a different style where you share the ball and all the guys touch the ball on offense,” he said. “I play my style and try my best to fit their style. I’m trying to bring my European style and still dominate.”
The protégé continued: “It was so exciting. For me going to this camp is just one more step closer to realizing my dream and where I want to be. I appreciate every single moment and this is just the start of my journey.”
One of the foremost NBA Draft experts Mike Schmitz has been following Avdija’s development over the past few years and is scouting him now in Chemnitz, Germany, at the Under-20 tournament where the Israeli sensation is the youngest player in the competition. So far, he’s averaging 15 points and eight rebounds a game.
“Always a pleasure watching 17-year-old Israeli sensation Deni Avdija. Doesn’t look out of place at all at the Under-20 level. Elite basketball instincts and IQ with a level of poise rare for a player his age. Very few holes in his game at 6-8,” tweeted Schmitz.
It’s clear that Israel basketball is in good hands and typical of Avdija’s confidence, he told Schimtz the sky’s the limit.
“I have developed a lot since last summer, waking up early and practicing. The best is yet to come. I lead the team, bringing the guys up when they are down, take the last minute and money time shots. I’ll be there all the time.”
Looks like Israel has a slam dunk of an up-and-coming baller in Deni Avdija.
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 Contact the Sports Rabbi via email at [email protected]