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Israeli hoopster Deni Avdija shoots for top 5 in Wednesday’s NBA draft

Maccabi Tel Aviv forward hailed as having ‘good all-round skills that easily translate to the NBA’; Hapoel Tel Aviv guard Yam Madar also hoping for success

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Deni Avdija controls the ball during the Euro League basketball match between Olimpia Milan and Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv, in Milan, Italy, November 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Deni Avdija controls the ball during the Euro League basketball match between Olimpia Milan and Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv, in Milan, Italy, November 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Top Israeli basketball prospect Deni Avdija is set to become the country’s highest-profile pick ever in the upcoming NBA draft on Wednesday night.

Avdija, 19, is a 6’9″ forward for Maccabi Tel Aviv and also plays on the Israeli national team.

He is considered a potential top-five pick in the 2020 draft, which was initially scheduled for June 25 but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Avdija had a strong performance during FIBA U20 European Championship last year, in which he was named the most valuable player of the tournament and led the Israeli youth team to gold.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deni Avdija after the Israel youth basketball team’s victory at the FIBA European Championships, at the Prime Minister’s Office on July 24, 2019 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Scouts really like the versatility of the Israeli player but they are not as enamored by his poor free throw shooting — in 59 games for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season, he shot just under 59% from the free throw line and 33% from 3-point range.

“It’s a matter of time and I think it’s a matter of the head,” Avdija said of the dismal percentage in a media video call. “I think I can shoot even above 70%. I’m going to get there.”

Just don’t compare him to Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic — or anyone else for that matter.

“I just want to be the best Deni Avdija I can be,” he said. “I just don’t want to be compared to anybody.”

His father, Zufer Avdija, played for the Yugoslavian national team and later moved to Israel, where he played professionally for a number of Israeli clubs.

David Blatt, the former coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv and the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, told the Haaretz daily that Avdija had a good chance to do well in the league.

“Deni has good all-round skills that easily translate to the NBA. He’s willing to work hard, and his toughness and good basketball IQ will help him become a good NBA player,” Blatt said.

If successful, Avdija will be the third Israeli to play in the NBA, following in the footsteps of Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel.

Yam Madar plays in a game against Argentina in Baden-Württemberg, Germany on April 2, 2018 (CC BY-SA Sven Mandel/Wikipedia)

Israel’s second draft prospect is Hapoel Tel Aviv point guard Yam Madar, who told the Walla news site he was very excited at potentially being picked to play in the American league.

“Between 1 and 10, my excitement is a 10. There’s nothing to hide — it’s the dream. Every kid would dream of being in that league and I am still dreaming. I hope there will be good news and I will be able to fulfill my dreams,” Madar said.

Madar, 19, also plays on the national men’s under-20 team.

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