Wizards

Deni Avdija embraces chance to make history for Jewish athletes

Wizards

One of the top prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft, Deni Avdija is set to become just the fourth player ever from the country of Israel. There is a strong likelihood he will be the highest draft pick of the four.

T.J. Leaf (18th overall) and Omri Casspi (23rd) were each first round picks, but Avdija is almost certain to be selected in the top 10 and could go as high as the top three. That could give Avdija a unique platform with people from the Jewish community worldwide and it is something he does not take lightly.

"It's exciting. Any time you can make history or any kind of good thing to represent the Jewish community and the state of Israel, that's an honor for me," he said in a video conference as part of the NBA Draft Combine.

Avdija, 19, played in the EuroLeague the past two seasons and is now ready to make the NBA leap. He is a 6-foot-9 forward with playmaking skills and the mobility of a guard.

His numbers in the EuroLeague suggest it may take some time for him to find his niche in the NBA, but the potential is there for him to be a star and his international following could help the league find more global reach.

The Wizards saw a similar situation develop with their 2019 first-round pick Rui Hachimura, who became the highest draft pick in the history of Japan. That led to an increase in international attention, which included a regular presence of Japanese media at their games.

 

Avdija has sought advice from former NBA players like Casspi, who have dealt with similar circumstances representing their home countries on the NBA stage. Casspi played 10 years in the NBA, most recently in 2018-19.

Although he was never a star, Casspi brought a new audience to the sport, often being greeted in NBA arenas around the United States by fans of Israel. In Washington, for instance, it was common to see fans flying the country's flag in the crowd.

Avdija has also been in contact with Amar'e Stoudemire, who played in Isreal following his NBA career and knows what it takes to become an All-Star. Avdija is hoping to do everything he can to live up to the hype and expectations.

"I know the [Jewish community] has my back. I'm just going to try to do the best I can to make everybody proud," he said.