Israeli hooper Deni Avdija was taken by the Washington Wizards with the No. 9 overall pick in the NBA draft Wednesday, becoming the first Israeli to break into the top 10 NBA draft pick.
Unlike many of his fellow draftees, 19-year-old Avdija has significant professional experience, having played two EuroLeague seasons with Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
In the 2019-20 season, he also became the youngest player to ever win the Israeli League’s Most Valuable Player award.
The 6-foot-9 forward with the ball-handling skills of a guard can play in different positions and has been on the Wizards’ radar for years.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of him. Our international scouts have been on this kid since he was 16,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said, adding it was a “no-brainer” to sign him.
“We were very grateful he fell to nine (on the draft)... He’s a proven player, having played in EuroLeague. He’s got character, work ethic - he checked all of our boxes.”
Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said he “loved Tommy’s enthusiasm” after they managed to capture Avdija.
“He was so fired up, I thought he was going to be like Carl Lewis, running 100 meters in 9.3 (seconds),” Brooks said. “To see the excitement in drafting Deni, it just fired me up.”
Other Israelis, such as Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel, have graced the courts of the best league in the world before but Avdija is the highest draft pick from the country in NBA history.
“I didn’t imagine that, it was crazy for me,” Avdija said.
“Israel is such a small country that doesn’t produce as many NBA players as other countries, but for me, just representing my country and making history, that’s a blessing.
“I have the whole nation behind me ... I never dreamed about this moment. I’m thinking it’s just still a dream.”
Avdija is the son of two professional athletes. His father, Zufer, won a bronze medal with Yugoslavia at the 1982 FIBA Basketball World Championship and played professionally in both Serbia and Israel. His mother, Sharon Artzi, is a former championship runner.
A second Israeli NBA hopeful, Hapoel Tel Aviv point guard and Avdija's teammate on the FIBA U20 national team Yam Madar, was chosen Wednesday night in the 47th place in the second round of the Draft by the Boston Celtics.
First published: 08:59, 11.19.20