Avdija says it's a blessing to represent his country

Washington Wizards take Israel’s Deni Avdija as 9th pick in NBA draft

19-year-old forward is first top-10 NBA draft pick from Israel and will be third Israeli to play in league; Yam Madar, another Israeli, scooped up by Boston in the second round

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)

WASHINGTON  — Israeli teenager Deni Avdija was taken by the Washington Wizards with the No. 9 overall pick in the NBA draft Wednesday night, becoming the first top-10 NBA draft pick from Israel.

“For me just to represent my country and to make history, that’s a blessing,” Avdija said from Tel Aviv during a video conference with reporters Wednesday. “I have the whole nation behind me. I hope I’m going to represent well.”

As for the idea of inspiring young Israelis to pursue basketball, he said: “I’m just glad they have somebody to look at and learn (from) — and just be motivated to see that us being a small country doesn’t mean that we can’t do big things.”

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Avdija then kissed his mother Sharon and father Zufer Avdija, who played for the Yugoslavian national team and later moved to Israel, where he played professionally for a number of Israeli clubs.

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

The Wizards get a versatile, playmaking forward with a still-developing game who could be a part of the team’s effort to turn things around after missing the playoffs the past two seasons.

Avdija, who helped Israel win the FIBA U-20 European Championships in 2018 and 2019, is a good ballhandler and passer but does come with questions about his shooting touch.

He became the youngest player to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv when he began his professional career in 2017.

Israeli ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan, who will also be taking over as ambassador to the US in Washington DC in January, tweeted that he was now a Wizards fan and told Avdija he was also an ambassador of Israel.


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.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks is entering the last season of his five-year contract and his hope is that there can be some improvement thanks to the return to action of point guard John Wall, the five-time All-Star who missed most of the 2018-19 season after heel surgery, and all of 2019-20 with a ruptured left Achilles tendon.

Barring a trade, Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal will be counted on to lead Washington back to relevance and get back to its status as a postseason participant after the club was 25-47 this season, following a 50-loss campaign the year before.

Beal finished second in the NBA in scoring this past season by averaging 30.5 points, behind only James Harden.

A second Israeli NBA hopeful, Hapoel Tel Aviv point guard Yam Madar, was chosen Wednesday night in the 47th place in the second round of the Draft by the Boston Celtics.

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

Anthony Edwards was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 1 overall pick.

Edwards became the 11th straight player to be the No. 1 pick after only one year of college, coming in a year where there was no clear obvious choice. He averaged 19.1 points for the Georgia Bulldogs, tops among all freshman.

Commissioner Adam Silver announced the pick from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. The draft was originally scheduled for June 25 before multiple delays caused by the virus pushed it back out and out of its usual home at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Boxes of hats were shipped to the top prospects to put on the one they needed after their name was called.

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