Nineteen-year-old Deni Avdija was selected as the ninth overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft by the Washington Wizards, the highest-drafted Israeli player in league history. He was touted as the “greatest basketball talent that Israel has ever had.”
Avdija was born on January 3, 2001, on kibbutz Beit Zera. Avdija holds dual citizenship of Israel and Serbia, the latter because his father is a Serbian citizen. He played association football until he entered fourth grade, when he began focusing on basketball.
In 2018 and 2019, he won gold medals at the U20 European Championships. He was named MVP in the 2019 tournament after averaging 18.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He also won MVP awards at the Basketball Without Borders European Camp in 2018 and at the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp in Charlotte in 2019.
When he turned 18, he received a deferment from mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces due to his basketball career. On April 1, 2020, while the basketball season was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Avdija was drafted into the IDF for a short service.
He led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the national title in 2020 while averaging 12.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward was chosen because of his three years of experience in European pro leagues and time on the Israeli national team, according to Wizards Coach Scott Brooks.
The Wizards’ general manager Tommy Sheppard told the Washington Post that when he is scouting overseas, he looks at the surnames of players to see if they have familiar basketball bloodlines. Avdija attracted his attention when he was 16, the youngest player ever to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv’s senior team in the Israeli pro league. Sheppard knew Avdija’s father had played professionally in Serbia and Israel.
“Some guys, they just understand how to play basketball,” said Sheppard. “And it doesn’t matter what age they are, they just kind of have a good feel. This was somebody that had that at that age.”
He credits his father for raising him “to be good off the court and how to behave with my teammates and how to be a professional and work hard and never give up.”
“I like to win. I’ll do anything for the team,” Avdija said. “I’ll give 100 percent. It’s definitely something I got from my parents, not just my dad; both my parents are very competitive. I remember going back home after losses; it wasn’t easy.”