Scouts from the Cleveland Cavaliers came to Tel Aviv last month to watch Avdija score 21 points in an impressive all-round performance as Israel beat Romania 87-63 in a European Championship qualifier. The Cavaliers are reportedly eager to sign him.
“I don’t feel under pressure that I’m seen as the big hope of Israeli basketball,” says Avdija. “It makes me happy that there are such expectations. At the moment I’m just working very hard and hoping to be the best and most perfect player that I can.”
Avdija is the son Zufer Avdija, captain of the Red Star Belgrade team in the 1980s in the former Yugoslavia. His father, a Muslim from Kosovo, played in Israel in the 1990s where he met and married his Jewish mother Sharon Artzi and they settled on Kibbutz Beit Zera in the Jordan Valley. The family moved to Tel Aviv so Deni could join Maccabi Tel Aviv where he rose through the ranks before making his first team debut when he was just 16. The highlight of Avdija’s career to date was captaining the Israel team which won the under-20 European Championships last July.
Former Minnesota Timberwolves star Derrick Williams, himself a former number two in the draft, is among many who see Avdija as a potential number one in the draft. He said: “Deni has great size and a good feel for the game. There are players all over the world who are talented but what really sets Deni apart is his confidence and basketball IQ.”
This NBA season, which was abandoned earlier this month because of the Coronavirus, has been the first without an Israeli player for decade after Omri Casspi returned to Maccabi Tel Aviv after 10 years in the NBA. Israel’s basketball league has also been suspended.
The draft in which NBA teams take it in turns to choose the most talented young players is scheduled for June but is likely to be postponed until late August because of the virus, with the 2020/2021 NBA season opening at the end of October.