Deni Avdija heads to Washington to start NBA career

Wizards pick Israeli phenom 9th overall in draft • Yam Madar also selected in 2nd round by Boston Celtics

Deni Avdija, drafted by the NBA's Washington Wizards (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
Deni Avdija, drafted by the NBA's Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards selected Deni Avdija ninth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft Wednesday night, thrilling Israeli sports fans.
Avdija’s close family and friends, who were at home in Israel due to the virtual nature of the event, jumped up with applause in the early hours of Thursday morning Israel time when the pick was announced.
The 19-year-old Israeli sensation has been a featured player for Maccabi Tel Aviv and will now be taking his talents to America’s capital.
Yam Madar was selected in the second round by the Boston Celtics, 47th overall, the second time two Israelis have been chosen in the same NBA draft. The last time that happened was in 2006, when Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin were chosen by the Orlando Magic and the Seattle Supersonics, 44th and 53rd, respectively.
The Wizards were pleasantly surprised that the 6-foot-9 Avdija was still available when they picked, as they had him rated high on their draft board.
“He was definitely the highest player left on our board,” Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said. “Our international scouts have been on this kid since he was 16. I would call him a blend player. Whoever’s out on the floor, he’s able to make plays.”
WITH THE selection, Avdija becomes Israel’s first-ever lottery pick (one of the first 14 selections) and second first-rounder, joining Omri Casspi, who was selected 23rd overall in the 2009 NBA draft.
Avdija will join Wizards stars Bradley Beal and John Wall (who is expected to return after an extended injury period) along with rising star Rui Hachimura. He is expected to receive plenty of playing time under Washington head coach Scott Brooks.
“I love his toughness. I love his IQ... He steps on his court and competes,” Brooks said.
Avdija joins a Wizards team that competed in the NBA bubble this past season, finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 25-47.
“You’re waiting for every pick, and butterflies are going around in your stomach,” Avdija said at a press conference for the Israeli media following his selection. “I had no expectations, and I was ready for any situation. Being the ninth pick and in the top 10 is amazing for our country, and I’m super excited to get going.”
“I had a short conversation with the Wizards, and everyone so far has shown me that it’s a great club,” he said. “The entire staff cheered for me when I was selected, and they all wanted me to feel at home. It’s a great city, the capital of the United States, and there’s the White House.”
AVDIJA SAID he would do whatever is asked of him and whatever it takes to win games.
“I’m not thinking about how many minutes I’ll get and how much I’ll be on the court,” he said. “But rather, I’m looking at what I can do to help the team win games. I will do everything I can to win games. This is going to be a great journey.”
“My parents and my country have shown so much pride,” he added. “They are all part of me and will be with me for my entire career going forward. My message to the children of Israel is that I’ve shown them that if you work hard and you do the maximum, then you will get far in life.”
Avdija intends to arrive in Washington in the coming days, and he is well aware that he will now be an unofficial ambassador for the entire country.
“Am Yisrael [the nation of Israel] is the best, and I’m looking forward to representing our country,” he said. “I’ll work hard to make everyone proud.”
Once he arrives in Washington, Avdija will have to self-quarantine and then head straight to training camp to get ready for the 2020/21 season, which opens on December 22.
“I will give everything that I have to the club,” he said. “I know what I can do, and I’m happy Washington trusts me and believes in me. I’ll do everything that I can.”
Avdija now has the opportunity to make an impact on the local Jewish communities around the Washington area and throughout North America, where he will be looked up to as a hero.
“We’re one big family, and I’ll be sure that I can represent the best that I can,” he said. “I make the Jewish communities proud and everyone around me proud as well.”
THERE HAD been some doubt that Madar would be chosen by one of the 30 teams after he remained in the draft and did not pull his name out a week ago. But his decision proved to be the correct one after being selected by the Celtics.
The 6-foot-4 guard, who plays his club basketball with Hapoel Tel Aviv, has shown much promise since bursting onto the international scene last summer, when he featured on the Israel Under-20 squad that won the European Championship in Tel Aviv.
With his deftness, quickness and all-around game, Madar continued to move up the draft pecking order over the past year and was confident that he would be selected.
Madar, also 19, will stay in Israel for the time being, according to Celtics GM Danny Ainge, and won’t join the team for this coming season.
“He’s a player we watched over in Israel quite a bit,” Ainge said. “We’ll see if it works out, and it will be at least another year.”
Madar understands the tradition of the Celtics, one of the NBA’s most iconic teams, and is well aware of all of the great players who have come before him, including Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce and others.
“It’s a great honor to be part of this organization,” he said. “I don’t know where everything will go, but it’s very exciting being with my family at this time. It has been a dream since I was a kid. It’s a dream come true, and I’m very happy.”
The challenge of playing for the Celtics is something that the Beit Dagan native is relishing, as well as also representing the Jewish community of the Greater Boston area and in North America.
“It will bring me more motivation, and I’ll work harder,” Madar said. “I am representing them, and I want to do that the best way I can and at the highest level. I will do everything to work the best that I can, and I’ll do what I need to do. I will know what my role is and grow from there.”