There is no doubt who Israel’s most talented and skilled player is. That would be Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija, who will be starting his third season in the NBA as just a 21-year-old, which is quite a feat.
The Beit Zera native is what one would call a modest star, someone who is connected to his nation and his people as he represents Israel in the world’s best league. Now, Avdija will also be counted on to help pace the national team and try to take Israel to the highest of heights in his first Eurobasket.
Avdija, who has starred for the blue-and-white youth teams and helped lead the Under-20 team to back-to-back European Championships in 2018 and 2019, will look to try and duplicate that feat at the senior level.
However, the Eurobasket is an entirely different story with many NBA players featuring in the competition, from two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic with Serbia to Finland’s Lauri Markkanen and the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, so there is absolutely no lack of star-power that will be on the floor
Certainly, the Israeli sensation has already tipped off against many of the superstars around the arenas of the NBA, but playing for one’s country is entirely different as fans from each players’ respective nations will be on site in four locations across Europe for the group stages to the knockout rounds slated for Berlin.
Avdija: An honor to put on Israeli jersey
Whether one is in Prague, Cologne, Milan or Tbilisi, the best of the best will be wearing their country’s colors with pride, and that is no different for Avdija.
“It’s always an honor for me to pull on the Israel National Team jersey. I began with the Under-16 squad and today I am with the senior team heading to the European Championships. It’s been an amazing journey so far that I didn’t even see coming.”
Avdija’s training camp didn’t go exactly as planned when he came down ill following Israel’s first national team exhibition game against Auburn and then he missed out on a pair of games in Georgia and the first of two at home versus Romania. But despite being out for a bit, the forward is ready to go.
“Unfortunately I was sick a bit and missed a week, but all in all it’s been very enjoyable to be here at training camp. We have a lot of talent and some players here have just amazing abilities. We can do some great things and we have been able to see our chemistry come together over the past few weeks.”
With no ego, Avdija will do what is asked of him, whether it’s to be the leading player, role player, starting or coming off of the bench.
“I will do the job that I need to do in order to help the national team. If it’s a role player or to lead – that is what I have done my entire career. I do know that I am one of the most important players here with the national team. but the main thing is to help the team in the best way possible. Together, we can do something as a team in the upcoming competition.”
Avdija’s father, Zufer, is originally from Serbia and a hoops star in his own right in his country of birth. This also means that games against Serbia will always be something a bit special for Avdija, and he will once again have a chance to play them in group stage action in Prague.
“Games against Serbia are always great for me and I’m 1-1 so far, but I do hope that I can go to 2-1. But to wear the Israel National Team uniform is something great and a lot of fun.”
Israel is definitely not considered to be one of the basketball powers in Europe, but it’s also not one of the smaller developing nations.
Blue-and-white hoops have made strides throughout the years and, in fact, the three youth teams that participated in European Championships all finished their respective tournaments in the Top 8.
While the senior national team is a different story due to the level of competition, Avdija does believe that the squad has a chance to do something special this year.
“We always are considered to be the underdog as a national team and that is the way it will be. A lot of people may not believe in what we can do, but we have our own expectations. That is why it was great with the youth teams, an experience that taught me that there is always a possibility, and I hope that we will come home from this tourney with a medal. We know what we are worth and what we can do.”
As a star of the Israel National Team due to being in the NBA, Avdija’s following has grown over the past number of years and he is relishing and enjoying that aspect of life which he has taken to heart.
“I feel that people have a lot of respect for me when I’m out and about and when I’m here in Israel. I understand that people don’t have a chance to see me that much when I am in the NBA, but I think it’s fun to have so many people that are looking at me. It’s really a dream that people consider me to be like a role model and I’ll try to do the best that I can in that role. All in all, it’s really exciting for me.”
While there will be plenty of NBA players at the Eurobasket, some will most definitely be in a leading role with their team and counted on to take the big shots during crunch time.
In some cases they will take a huge load on themselves because they also are aware of the fact that they are the most talented players on their country’s roster. Avdija, who may be called upon in that exact situation, doesn’t feel that there is any extra pressure on him coming up.
“I feel no pressure and I like that I have a responsibility. I will do the maximum that I can and every player here will give 100% and leave everything on the court, from there we will see where we can go. But I don’t feel any pressure. At the end of the day, we always have some great players both young and old on this roster and it will be a lot of fun.”
As for really bringing home a medal, Avdija is certain that this version of the Israel National Team has a chance to do just that.
“I wish that we can. Before I won at the Under-20 level I never thought of it and didn’t believe it to be possible, but there is always a chance. We know what to do and what we can do. We have players who have played at the highest of levels and I hope that we will be able to bring back that medal.”