How high will he go? Avdija’s big night

Teen sensation set to become Israel’s first NBA lottery pick • Tel Aviv’s Madar also could be drafted

DENI AVDIJA took part in the 2019 National Basketball Association’s All Star-Borders Global Camp. Soon enough, the 19-year-old Israeli will be wearing a real NBA jersey. (photo credit: JIM DEDMON/USA TODAY SPORTS)
DENI AVDIJA took part in the 2019 National Basketball Association’s All Star-Borders Global Camp. Soon enough, the 19-year-old Israeli will be wearing a real NBA jersey.
Israeli and Jewish NBA aficionados around the globe will be on the edge of their seats on Wednesday night as blue-and-white phenom Deni Avdija is expected to be selected as one of the top picks in this year’s entry draft.
Avdija will find out where his future lies from his home in the Holy Land as this year’s draft will be conducted virtually due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The budding star will most likely join Omri Casspi, who was selected in 2009 by the Sacramento Kings, as the only Sabras to ever be taken in the first round and will have the responsibility to carry the flag across North America with pride as he puts a nation’s hopes on his shoulders.
There have been numerous teams to have expressed interest in the 6-foot-9 Israeli forward including the Golden State Warriors who pick second, the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks who select fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. The first pick in the draft belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are expected to take either one of the top two guards available in LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards while big man James Wiseman is also slated to go within the first five picks.
Rounding out the top 10 teams in this year’s draft are Charlotte Hornets with the third pick and the Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns with picks seven through 10.
With no clear-cut superstar in this year’s draft and the cancellation of the NCAA March Madness tournament this past spring, there are many unknowns surrounding the prospects and there will certainly be many surprises throughout the event which could see Avdija being selected anywhere in the draft lottery (one of the first 14 picks).
Avdija's father, Zufer, won a bronze medal with Yugoslavia at the 1982 FIBA Basketball World Championship and played professionally in Serbia and Israel. His mother, Sharon Artzi, is a former championship runner.  
Another Israeli that has entered the draft is Yam Madar, who may have played his final game for Hapoel Tel Aviv in an 88-76 loss at the hands of Hapoel Jerusalem. The wiry guard scored 23 points and added six assists in a valiant effort as he has been rumored to be chosen anywhere from the end of the first round all the way to the end of the second round.
The capital city Reds sported five players in double digits as Oded Katash’s team pulled ahead thanks to sharp shooting from long distance by Tamir Blatt and Tarik Phillip, while Suleiman Braimoh and TaShawn Thomas did damage inside in the win.
Braimoh led Jerusalem with 19 points, Blatt scored 16 points while Idan Zalmanson and Tarik Phillip added 15 points apiece in the victory.
“After the first four minutes we stalled down and began to focus on our attack,” commented Katash. “We scored a bundle of points in the third quarter despite having such a short rotation, which ended up helping us finish off the game.”
“We weren’t consistent enough and we didn’t know how to stay in the game,” said Madar who also commented on the upcoming NBA Draft. “I’m really excited, I won’t hide that fact. This is any child’s dream to be at this point. I hope that I will hear good news and be able to experience my dream.”
Elsewhere in local action, Maccabi Tel Aviv needed overtime to down pesky Bnei Herzliya 92-86. The yellow-and-blue’s Ante Zizic and Chris Jones were able to overcome stellar performances by Frank Gaines, Kendall Anthony and Coty Clarke to take the tough win.
Gaines drilled a triple with 21 seconds left in regulation time to send the game into the extra session, but Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s dynamic duo scored down the stretch from the inside and outside to notch the victory.
Zizic scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Jones added 17 points and eight assists as Elijah Bryant and Tyler Dorsey scored 16 points each in the win.
Gaines scored a huge 34 points – going 7-of-11 from downtown – Anthony added 22 points while Clarke put in 20 points, eight boards and five assists in the loss.
“We’re a bunch of new guys put together and we are still trying to figure it out,” explained Jones. “If every game comes down to two points and we win then we will take it. The Israeli league is a lot more aggressive and you can get away with a lot more defensively. The refs let the guys play.”
Gaines also reflected on the contest after his tremendous effort in a losing cause.
“I think we had a good chance and we played hard, everybody played together and that is what we want to continue to do. It was tough going to overtime, but as the year goes on we’ll get better and we’ll win some close games like this.”
Meanwhile, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil defeated Hapoel Holon 88-79 in a high-octane affair by both clubs.
After a close first quarter, Gilboa ripped off a 17-0 run thanks to Netanel Artzi and Iftach Ziv, but Tyrus McGee and Frederic Bourdillon came on strong to tie things up late before Ziv and Isaiah Cousins found the basket down the stretch to wrap up the win.
Artzi equaled his career high with 21 points, Ziv added 19 points and Cousins checked in with 14 points in the win. McGee led all scorers with 25 points and Bourdillon added 21 points in the loss.
“This game was a lot of fun and I’m happy that we won,” said Artzi. “As for hitting my career high in points, I only realized at the end of the game. The points don’t interest me as much, but I won’t lie – I am happy that I am improving and advancing.”
“I don’t want to look for excuses and I am proud of how we played,” said Holon coach Stefanos Dedas after the game. “Gilboa had some luck with their tough shots and despite playing a poor second quarter we played a good second half. We have a lot of games and if we beat Minsk [on Tuesday night in FIBA Champions League action] then everyone will forget this game.”
Also, Hapoel Eilat sunk Maccabi Rishon Lezion 86-84. Casey Prather and Jonathan Skjöldebrand dominated from beyond the arc while Josh Nebo operated in the paint for Ariel Beit Halachmi's Red Sea City side in the victory despite Noam Dovrat’s career high in points with 20.
Prather led all scorers with 28 points on 5-of-7 from three-point land, Skjöldebrand added 17 points thanks to a trip of triples while Nebo recorded a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
In addition to Dovrat’s 20 points, Akil Mitchell added 18 points and Darryl Monroe chipped in with 17 points for Rishon in the defeat.
“This was a well-balanced team effort,” said Nebo. “We shot the ball well and shared the ball well as a team. We also did a good job of competing on defense. As for myself, I’ve felt good as a first year pro. Every game I’m getting more comfortable with the style of play.”
Hapoel Haifa continued its hot start in defeating Ness Ziona 106-91.
Jason Siggers led the way with 27 points, Amit Simhon added 20 points while Keenan Evans added 17 points and 12 assists in the Reds win.
Nimrod Levi was Ness Ziona’s high scorer with 24 points as changes in personnel will be afoot on Brad Greenberg’s team.