All eyes on Israeli hoops phenom Avdija

Projected as a top pick in next week’s NBA draft, the sky’s the limit for 19-year-old swingman

DENI AVDIJA has been projected as a top-10 NBA pick throughout the year, generally in the 4-8 range. More recently, however, there are rumblings that the 19-year-old Israeli will be selected closer toward the 2-5 range in next Wednesday’s draft (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
DENI AVDIJA has been projected as a top-10 NBA pick throughout the year, generally in the 4-8 range. More recently, however, there are rumblings that the 19-year-old Israeli will be selected closer toward the 2-5 range in next Wednesday’s draft
The State of Israel will have its newest National Basketball Association member next week when Deni Avdija will in all likelihood be selected in the first round of the November 18 entry draft.
The 19-year-old blue-and-white sensation is slated to be chosen as a lottery pick (consisting of the first 14 selections) and will be among the top players that will make their American professional debut next month.
This year’s draft will be unlike any other due to the coronavirus situation and instead of having pomp and circumstance, with all of the snazzy suits and cool sportswear, the NBA will rely on various technological methods to put on the yearly happening.
When he hears his name being called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver next week between Wednesday night and Thursday morning Israel time, Avdija will become the second Sabra to be selected in the first round. (Omri Casspi was selected to play in the world’s best league back in 2009 when he was chosen 23rd overall in the first round by the Sacramento Kings.)
Ahead of the draft, The Jerusalem Post took part in an exclusive NBA Media event via Zoom where Avdija gave his final thoughts before the big day.
“I’m very excited and it’s right around the corner,” said the Israeli swingman. “To get drafted and having my family and friends with me as well as all those who I know, is just super special. I’ve worked so hard for this moment. They have been with me the entire way and it’s a special feeling and a privilege to be in the best league in the world.”
Not only will Avdija be selected, but he will be one of the top picks in the draft and is projected to go anywhere in the top 10, even as high as No. 1 overall.
“Being one of the top 10 picks, a lottery pick, will help me develop and make me be the best Deni that I can be. It’s all about staying positive and it’s a chance that will allow me to show my abilities as I continue to grow.”
Avdija worked out for a number of teams at his training base in Atlanta including the Golden State Warriors, who have been the dominant team over the course of the last decade and have the No. 2 pick.
“I met with a number of teams including the Golden State Warriors, but I want to keep this on the low. I want to say that they are a great organization and a great team and it would be a great situation for me. But I don’t care where I go. I just want to go somewhere where the team can maximize my abilities on and off the court.
“One of the goals of working out for NBA teams was to show the clubs’ brass certain things that can’t necessarily be seen online, I wanted to show how competitive I am and how I am on the court. I wanted to show my personality and show how much I love what I do, smile and be myself.”
While in the US, Avdija worked on various facets of his game in order to be as ready as possible for when the NBA begins the 2020/21 season on December 22.
“I’ve been working on my mechanics and they are always changing because I’m growing and getting bigger. I’m making my shot more efficient. I want to improve, I like to improve and I will improve. All of this work will help improve my shooting percentages.”
Being in America ahead of the draft aided Avdija in preparing as best as possible for the challenges to come as he will experience numerous changes moving to a new country.
“Over the last few months I was getting used to living in the United States as well as the style of practice that is expected, the food and the entire culture is different. I took care of my body and adjusted as I got ready to be drafted into the best league in the world.”
Over the course of this past season, Avdija had the opportunity to play with two former NBA players in Casspi and Amar’e Stoudemire at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Being able to share the locker-room and pick the brains of the stars day-in and day-out was an extremely valuable asset that most players his age will never be able to experience.
“I was talking a lot with Omri about the day-to-day life and transitioning to the NBA. He played 10 years in the NBA and he has helped guide me. It was great to have him tell me about the travel, the game-style and many other little things. Omri’s a very smart guy and we had a good relationship.”
Stoudemire will be an assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets this coming season and will work together with one of his former Phoenix Suns teammates in head coach Stave Nash. Avdija was surprised when Stoudemire announced that he wouldn’t be back in Israel after earning last season’s Final Four MVP award.
“Maccabi wanted to have him back this season and I would have loved to see him still play because he’s still great, but hopefully I’ll meet up with him during the season with the Nets. We had a great relationship and we talked a lot about the NBA and about being an All-Star and leading a team. I was blessed with having him by my side.”
Avdija will be feted by Jewish communities throughout North America and obviously coming from Israel will bring many out to see him play once fans are allowed back into arenas. Being a part of the blue-and-white nation has been ingrained in Avdija from a young age as he will hold the flag high in the NBA.
“I started representing my country since I was 16 years old and I played in multiple countries representing Israel. When I was 17, I helped win our country’s first gold medal at the Under-20 European Championships. It’s always an honor to represent Israel. We haven’t had a lot of players so it will be great to plant my flag wherever I go.”
When his name is called for the first time in an NBA context, both Avdija himself and all of Israel will be thrilled. Emotions will rush through an entire nation and who will all feel his joy as he reaches yet another milestone in his young career.
“It’s for sure going to be exciting. It’s the biggest stage for basketball in the world. What’s the chances of any basketball player to get drafted? The percentages are so small and as a player from Israel? It will bring tears to my eyes when I hear my name called because I worked so hard. This is yet another step. It’s truly a dream come true.”
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 feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at [email protected]