Deni Avdija is a gifted athlete and the new rising Israeli star of the NBA. At only 19 years old, he is about to leave his homeland and fly to the United States, where on November 18, 2020, the native of Beit Zera, a kibbutz in northern Israel, is scheduled to participate in the NBA draft for the upcoming season. Like his famous predecessors – Gal Mekel, Doron Sheffer and Omri Casspi – Avdija is very focused and determined to make his mark in the most prestigious basketball league in the world.
He is the son of two high-level athletic parents. His father, Zufer Avdija, is a Serbian-Israeli of Gorani-Muslim heritage and a former Yugoslavian professional basketball player who played for eight seasons for several Israeli clubs, including Rishon Lezion and Hapoel Tel Aviv. His mother, Sharon Artzi, is a Jewish-Israeli basketball player and a former track and field athlete.
Avdija started playing sports early on, and after trying out for soccer he focused on becoming a basketball player because of his height (6’9’’) and athletic ability. Spotted by one of the biggest clubs in the country, he joined Maccabi Tel Aviv at the age of 12.
Playing at a level well above average, he integrated into the professional team four years later and played his first minutes of a game on November 19, 2017, becoming the youngest player in the history of the club to play professionally at 16 years and 320 days. But it’s not only with Maccabi Tel Aviv that Avdija has shown his talent.
He won a gold medal at the U20 European Championship two years in a row – in 2018 and 2019 – and was named the best player of the tournament. Since then he has grown, expanded his game, inflated his statistics and enriched his trophy case. He has been Israeli champion three times, as well as winning an Israeli cup and several individual awards, including this year’s best Israeli player.
For him, it’s time for the big leap. After eight years playing under Maccabi’s yellow jersey, the Israeli child prodigy has decided to leave the family cocoon and fly to other destinations, without forgetting where he came from. “I am embarking on a new mission in which I hope to represent the State of Israel, my family and myself with honor,” he says.
Like Luka Doncic, a former Euroleague player, Avdija wants to imprint his mark on the NBA. “He is a great player and we come from the same league,” Avdija says. “He has built his own path. I’m building my own path and have my own qualities. I have my characteristics, good and bad. But I don’t want to be compared to anyone. I just want to be the best Deni Avdija I can be and I don’t want to be compared to others.” Avdija hopes to progress quickly in the NBA. “In terms of my technique, I’m a good shooter,” he says. “I never think about the old shots. I always think about the next ones. If I didn’t know how to shoot, I wouldn’t even try the three-point shot. I think it’s a matter of time, it’s a matter of mind and I’ll get there. If it means staying at the gym every night until midnight after practice to raise my success rate, I will do it.” Being thin allows him to play as a power forward, and his relatively light weight (220 lb.) allows him to be very mobile and perform rebounds and inside shots. Known for his versatility, he is at ease in the defensive zone to counter attacks, and is very skillful in front of the opponent’s basket. On February 1, he set his career record with 26 points and six rebounds in a defeat against Hapoel Eilat.
An international in the seniors’ category since February 2019, he has had three selections. In February, he scored 21 points and eight rebounds against Romania during the qualifying round for EuroBasket 2021. Despite his young age (he turns 20 on January 3, 2021), his resume and statistics speak for themselves and make him one of the best Israeli prospects in the years to come.
Although he also holds Serbian citizenship, Avdija maintains a strong attachment to Israel. At the age of 18, he received a deferment of military service due to his sporting career. On April 1, 2020, while the basketball season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was enlisted in the IDF for an abridged service, which he will soon complete abroad as an outstanding athlete.
With his eyes turned to the Atlantic, he is eagerly awaiting the NBA draft, where he is among the top 10 picks. Some prominent teams have already positioned themselves and have already checked off Avdija’s name in their paperwork.
Impressed by his talent, the Warriors have already taken matters into their own hands and sent a delegation to meet the Israeli prospect. On November 13, we will know the name of his new team. Because of the current public health situation, the new NBA season won’t start until December 25 and nothing is certain. Still, you can be sure that Avdija will do all he can to make his mark.