Israeli basketball sensation Deni Avdija picked in NBA draft

19-year-old Wiz kid from Herzliya selected ninth overall by the Washington Wizards; Israeli Yam Madar drafted in second round by Boston Celtics.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

A visibly thrilled Deni Avdija said Thursday he is “super excited” to be going to play professional basketball in Washington after he was selected in the prestigious first round of the National Basketball Association draft of new players.

The 19-year-old forward was a high school basketball star, led Israel’s youth team to two straight gold medals at the European championships, and is the youngest ever to play for Israel’s fabled Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team at the age of 16.

Avdija, the first top-10 NBA draft pick from Israel, said he was thrilled to be going to Washington.

“DC fans – I’m super excited to come over,” a smiling Avdija said in a video on Facebook shortly after being selected. “It’s a great organization. I’m so glad, I’m so blessed to be pick by them.”

“To be picked in the top 10 of the NBA draft is not easy to achieve,” Avdija said later in a Ynet interview. “I did it, I’m happy and I’m really excited.”

Avdija said he recognizes the responsibility that comes with representing his country.

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“The people of Israel are the greatest there are, they support you and support you and I’m happy that the country is behind me,” he said. “It gives me a lot of motivation. I will represent it with honor and I’m just waiting to realize the dream.”

In a phone call to Avdija, who was sitting with his family in Israel at 3 a.m. when the announcement was made, Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard told him, “We are so excited. It’s an amazing journey.”

“You were very, very high on our board, and no one thought in a million years that you’d get to us. We are very, very excited,” Sheppard said. “You got no pressure on you. Just come in and play. We think the world of you.”

NBA Draft analyst Mike Schmitz said Avdija might be the surprise star of the 2020 draft of junior players.

“I think this is going to be the steal of the draft, to be honest. I think that Deni Avdija, when we look back five years from now, we’re gonna see a guy who could be the best player to come out of this draft,” Schmitz said.

“It starts with his basketball IQ and his versatility. He’s tremendous in the open court and he has great size, 6 foot 10, he’s a firey competitor, 225 pounds … he can really facilitate, and an underrated defender as well.”

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Fluent in English, but with a telltale Israeli accent, Avdija says he learned the language by watching TV and playing the computer game Call of Duty.

Avdija has basketball in his DNA. His father, Zufer Avdija, was born in Kosovo and played for the Yugoslavian national team before moving to Israel, where he played in Israel’s national league.

“He raised me up to be a great competitor and a killer on the court,” Avdija said.

Boston Celtics Hapoel selected Tel Aviv point guard Yam Madar, 19, who was drafted 47th overall. Madar is a 6-foot-3, 180-pound point guard and has played for Hapoel for two years ,where this past season he won the Most Improved Player Award.

Madar was a teammate of Avdija when Israel’s under-20 national team won the European championship last year.