Announcement no surprise as 19-year-old Maccabi Tel Aviv’s swingman one of top global prospects
By JOSHUA HALICKMAN
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Israeli basketball prodigy Deni Avdija declared on Thursday for the 2020 NBA Draft, scheduled to be held in June.Avdija, 19, is expected to be a lottery pick – one of the first 14 selections – and is slated to be the highest Israeli ever to be selected in the entry draft. In mock drafts published throughout the basketball scouting world, the blue-and-white rising star could be chosen with one of the top five picks.Avdija released a video statement on Thursday making his anticipated announcement and thanking the many people who have supported him along the way.“Despite the difficult times that we are in during these days, dreams and hopes can still be attained. It’s my privilege to tell you that I am planning on reaching one of my dreams and an additional challenge in my basketball career,” he said.“I’m happy to declare that I will be entering the upcoming 2020 NBA Draft.”There were many individuals who helped Avdija get to the point to where he is today, and the swingman thanked many of them in his statement.“At this time I want to acknowledge the Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Club and its management for their support. Especially to Nikola Vujcic, Ioannis Sfairpoulos, Veljko Perovic, Regev Fanan, Avi Even, Vasilis Geragotelis, Tim Fanning, Oded Shalom and Oren Aharoni and the rest of my professional staff who have been with me throughout the years and had the belief and support in my abilities. Thank you also to the Israel Basketball Association on the privilege to represent the State of Israel.”AdvertisementAvdija’s parents have also been crucial in his upbringing and have been with him every step of the way.“It’s very important that I thank my parents, Sharon and Zufi, and the rest of my family who have supported me along the way with unconditional love throughout the years.“In addition, I want to thank my agents Matan Siman Tov, Doug Neustadt and Maurizio Balducci, who is looking down on me from above, for their support.”Israeli hoops fans have been with Avdija from day one and he recognized their support as well.“I also what to thank all of the basketball fans and those who believed in me and supported me throughout the years; all of this couldn’t have happened without you.”For an Israeli playing in the NBA, it’s also about representing the country with honor and pride.“I am about to embark on a new mission where I hope to represent the State of Israel, my family and myself with honor. I wish and hope that everyone will be able to get back to their normal routine and return to the arenas, healthy and even stronger than ever very soon. Please stay at home. I love you all.”In 21 Israeli league games this season, Avdija averaged 12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in over 27 minutes of playing time, while in the Euroleague he’s averaged 4.0 points and 2.6 rebounds in over 14 minutes per game, having featured in 26 contests.At the beginning of April, Avdija was inducted into the Israel Defense Forces and will complete his service in North America with the designation of an “Exceptional Athlete.”Last summer, Avdija led the Israel Under-20 National Team to the European Championship and earned the Most Valuable Player award as the tournament’s outstanding player.Avdija won’t be the only Israeli in this year’s NBA Draft as Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Yam Madar also entered the draft, but may only be selected near the end of the second round. With the Reds this season, Madar is averaging eight points per game while playing 21 minutes a contest in 21 matchups.The first Sabra to play in the NBA was Omri Casspi, Avdija’s Maccabi Tel Aviv teammate, as he featured in the world’s most prestigious league after being selected by the Sacramento Kings with the 23rd pick of the 2009 draft. The Holon native spent a decade in the NBA and featured in close to 600 games, but never played in the postseason.The second Israeli to play in the NBA was Gal Mekel, who was not drafted but signed as a free agent and played for the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans between 2013-2015.Back in 2006 Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin were both picked in the second round of the NBA draft. Eliyahu was selected 44th by the Orlando Magic while Halperin was taken by the Seattle SuperSonics with the 53rd pick, however neither played in the NBA.The first Israeli ever to be picked in the draft was Doron Sheffer, who was chosen by the Los Angeles Clippers with the 36th pick in the second round after having starred with the University of Connecticut while playing alongside the likes of future NBA superstar Ray Allen.Another Israeli who was close to having played in the NBA was Oded Katash, who is now the head coach of Hapoel Jerusalem. Katash had come to terms to join the New York Knicks in the summer of 1998, but the NBA lockout forced Katash to return to play with Maccabi Tel Aviv and he never ended up appearing at Madison Square Garden.