Deni Avdija

Original Article Published on The JNS

The forward led the national team in points, rebounds and assists at the EuroBasket tournament.

Listening to Deni Avdija answer questions at Washington Wizards Media Day last week provided a reminder of just how much the likable 21-year-old Israeli forward has accomplished—and endured—in his two seasons in the NBA. And he has a lot to look forward to. 

The only Israeli in the NBA is about to kick off season 3 with the Wizards, but first he has to get through a tough four-day training camp, fly to Japan for two preseason games against the Golden State Warriors, overcome a groin injury, and play two additional preseason games on the road—all before the regular season kicks off on Oct. 19. 

Welcome to the life of a young NBA player who also found time to play for the Israel national team this summer, hit the beach, and maintain his good sense of humor. 

“The off-season was great. I had time to work on my game and body,” said Avdija, referring to his experience playing in the EuroBasket 2022 tournament while also visiting with family and friends at the beach. 

“I got lots of experience in the off-season and I enjoyed the experience playing on the national team. We all enjoyed it,” he said while admitting, “I thought we’d advance higher. Unfortunately, we came up short.” 

Israel won two close games against Finland and the Netherlands but lost to Poland, Serbia and the Czech Republic. 

Avdija got off to a slow start as he tested positive for COVID-19 and wasn’t able to fly with his team to Georgia for three exhibition games before the tournament. Yet the 6’9” (2.06 meter) tall small forward still managed to lead Israel in points, rebounds and assists at EuroBasket. 

Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said he is fond of international basketball. 

“I think FIBA competition simulates as much stress and pressure as you can put on a player outside the NBA playoffs. We want all of our players to compete for their countries,” he said. 

After seeing Avdija play in Prague, Sheppard said the leadership experience provided him with more confidence than the Wizards have seen from him yet. 

“It was nice to see Tommy come and show his support,” Avdija added. 

Avdija had a great summer in Israel with family and friends. “I was chilling, drinking some good wine, enjoying the sun,” he playfully told the media. “You don’t need more than that!” 

He then offered, “I trained on the beach too.” Avdija explained that he devoted time this summer to gaining confidence in his shot, and to “playing more physical.”

At the media session, Avdija reflected on his expectations of himself. “I want to improve my shots, the pick and roll, creating for others, being more confident and knowing where to be on the court.” 

Avdija said he is excited to play with new and returning Wizards teammates. “I feel like these are great guys and the chemistry can be great.”

Sheppard noted that 14 of the 16 rostered players worked out together in Los Angeles this summer. The only two who didn’t join the squad were Avdija and Kristaps Porzingis, who were playing for their national teams—Israel and Latvia, respectively. 

Avdija and the Wizards will soon be off to Japan for the two exhibition games, the NBA Japan Games 2022, at Saitama Super Arena outside Tokyo on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2. 

It will mark the Wizards’ first trip to Japan and the league’s 15th and 16th games in the country.

“We are so honored to represent the NBA and the wonderful game of basketball in front of an audience of Japanese fans,” said Ted Leonsis, founder and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Washington Wizards as well as the NHL‘s Washington Capitals.

“We are particularly excited to watch [Wizards forward] Rui Hachimura play in front of his fellow Japanese citizens,” Leonsis said. 

Hachimura said he was excited to bring Wizards basketball to Japan.

“I cannot wait to see the arena filled with fans getting to see NBA basketball in person,” he said. 

Avdija is clearly excited about the team’s trip to Japan. He recently posted a playful video asking teammates, “Which Wizards player would you want to sit next to on the flight to Japan?” 

It is unclear whether he will actually play in these games as he is nursing the groin injury he suffered during last month’s EuroBasket tournament. “I am still dealing with a little bit of [groin] discomfort,” he reported at Media Day.

But Avdija, who made a complete recovery following a fractured right ankle suffered in a game in April 2021, is confident that he will be playing soon. “The doctor and the trainers will do their best to get me healthy and on the court ASAP. I trust them!” he said.

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“He is the pride of the Jewish people. We always come out to support Deni,” says Matisyahu Zamir, a student at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach.

Original Article Published in the JNS

The Zamir family came to Madison Square Garden from Woodmere, N.Y., hoping to see their beloved Deni Avdija and the Washington Wizards play against the New York Knicks. Elad Levi and his son came all the way from Tel Aviv — part of a 24-person tour group hoping to see their fellow countryman Avdija, the only Israeli in the NBA, play in several games.

Yet their luck was running out after the Washington Wizards’ game against the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 21 was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak within the Nets’ roster. They came with their signs and Israeli flags and jerseys, and prayed the Wizards’ Dec. 23 game versus the Knicks would go on.

Four hours before tipoff, Wizards star Bradley Beal entered the league’s health and safety protocols. It is unclear whether he had received a positive test result or whether it was a matter of contract tracing. He joined fellow starter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was already in the protocols.

Ultimately, the Zamir and Levi families fished got their wish. But just barely. Avdija scored in double digits for the fourth game in a row, with 14 points, as well as five rebounds and a career-high three blocks. It was his fifth multi-block game this season. The Wizards defeated the Knicks, 124-117.

“I like that [Avdija] is a really good shooter and his defense is pretty amazing too,” reports Matisyahu Zamir, a student at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach in Woodmere. “He is the pride of the Jewish people. We always come out to support Deni.”

The Zamirs, all clad in custom-made red number 9 Avdija jerseys, enjoyed their view from the first row, close to center court. Like other Jewish and Israeli fans, they enjoy following 20-year-old Avdija’s continued growth in his second year in the NBA. Very few fans saw Avdija play in person last season.  He made his first appearance at the Knicks’ home of Madison Square Garden on March 23, 2021, and scored 14 points before fouling out in a Wizards loss. Due to COVID-19 rules at the time, the arena was at 10% capacity. One month later, on April 21, 2021, Avdija suffered a season-ending right fibular hairline fracture, followed by a long period of rehabilitation.

This season, Avdija is thriving on and off the court, though he could do without the day-to-day uncertainty of the pandemic. “To be in question is a bummer,” he says. “It is not fun, but we have to keep being safe. We have to just keep working ourselves.”

Avdija worked hard to return this season and he feels it is paying off. “I see progress every day and hope I will maximize my potential until I retire,” he says. “I learn new things every day and get better every day as I become a more complete player.” For instance, Avdija describes that he is “more mature” and “knows what spots to shoot from,” and is learning to “trust my shot and not think too much.”

Wizards Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. likes what he sees and has been giving Avdija more playing time. “He has progressed well,” he says. “We are putting him in different situations. I am learning to trust him more. His teammates are learning to trust him more. He is stepping up and making big plays —facilitating, scoring, and we have seen the defensive side of it. So, I think he is starting to put together a nice run here. If he can play this way night in and night out, this is going to be great for us.”

Unseld also admires Avdija’s energy and attitude. “His energy is always good. He is a very positive guy, doing things for his teammates,” he says.

Despite the many precautions in place due to COVID-19, Advija has had some opportunities to get to know the local Washington, D.C., Jewish community — and he enjoys speaking with Israeli media. Avdija recently lit Hanukkah candles, signed autographs and answered questions from fans at the Rockville Town Center in Montgomery County, Md., 20 miles north of the team’s Capital One Arena.

When asked what was his best moment of the year, Advija enthusiastically reports that it was being back in Israel for the first time and seeing friends, family and all of the support he has been receiving.

And Avdija’s New Year’s resolution? “That by the end of 2022 I will be better than I was at the end of 2021. That’s all I’m asking for. Just to be a better person, learn more, know more, and be a better player and to be healthy. That’s really important.”

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Original Article Published on the JNS

Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija is proudly representing Israel and Judaism on and off the court.

The 20-year-old Israeli is having a good second season in the NBA and finally having opportunities to interact with the local Jewish community. Avdija lit the menorah on the fifth night of Chanukah at the Rockville Town Center in Montgomery County, Md., 20 miles north of the team’s Capital One Arena.

He wore a white kipah, chanted the blessings, signed autographs, answered questions from fans and expressed appreciation to the members of the Jewish community who helped him celebrate his first Hanukkah away from family.

“I want to say thank you to the people who came here and supported me and light the menorah with me. Those little things with the community, especially with the Jewish community, it’s not easy to celebrate the first Hanukkah out of home,” he said.

Avdija elaborated on Thursday night’s “in-person-with-fans” event during Friday’s post-practice media session. “It was pure enjoyment to meet and share this special moment,” he said. “The love and support the Jewish community game me is unreal!”

Avdija, who is currently the only Israeli playing in the NBA, has always looked to the example set by Omri Casspi and Nadav Henefield—Israelis who also had distinguished basketball careers in the United States. “I saw what they did and knew I wanted to do that, too. I aimed for that from a young age.”

In fact, he takes his role quite seriously. “It is great representing Israel; I am trying to do my best on and off the court to give pride to my country.”

And he noted that he has always loved the “Festival of Lights.”

“My mother had a special connection to this holiday,” he related. “This is the holiday we focused most on. It is just good vibes—this holiday in Israel when I was growing up. You had sufganiyot everywhere, the songs, the menorahs … everywhere. It is just one of my favorite holidays for sure. And I wait every year to celebrate it again and again.”

On a health digression, Avdija reported that he was “not feeling well” and was “a little tired.” He is listed as “questionable-non-COVID illness” for the Friday home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wizards, 14-8, are coming off an eight-point win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, marking their eighth home win of the season.

On Sunday, the Wizards begin a three-game road trip versus Toronto, Indiana and Detroit, and will play the next nine of 10 games on the road.

Avdija is averaging 6.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 20 minutes of playing time per game. He is second on the team in blocked shots.

“I feel stronger, more experienced,” he said, “am getting fewer foul calls and am learning something new and getting better every day.”

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Original Article published on The JNS

The 20-year-old scored four points, had three rebounds and one assist in only 16 minutes of play. Nevertheless, the Wizards lost to the Knicks 117-99.

Deni Avdija, the only Israeli player in the NBA, returned to action on Saturday night after a longer than expected recovery and rehabilitation from an ankle injury earlier this year. The Washington Wizards faced the New York Knicks in a preseason game; it was the second preseason game for the Wizards but the first for Avdija. He scored four points, had three rebounds and one assist in only 16 minutes of play. Nevertheless, the Wizards lost to the Knicks 117-99.

Despite the loss, Avdija, 20, was happy to be back in action, saying “it feels good to be back. It is a good first step to get it going, to get two baskets, to get in the rhythm.”

He made a layup on a fast break from teammate Raul Neto and made a second basket after a pass from team star Bradley Beal. “You need to start with something,” he said. “It felt good.”

Wizards Coach Wes Unseld was generally pleased with Avdija’s performance, though he pointed out some areas in need of improvement. “For the most part, he was good,” he said. “He had some missed assignments. And using his voice will be a constant theme for him. We have to prod him a little bit to do it.”

In the Oct. 9 game, Unseld worked to have Avdija play continuous minutes. “It was Deni’s first crack at it. We wanted to make sure he had extended runs and didn’t want to chop up his minutes too much.” Unseld has reported throughout the pre-season that Avdija is ready to play but wants to ease him in slowly. He will continue to monitor his minutes.

While Avdija is pleased with how hard he worked on his rehabilitation and conditioning, and how much his coaches and trainers have invested in him, he acknowledged that it has been difficult being away from the game—since April 21, when he got hurt—for so long. “I missed basketball. I missed being on the court. I don’t take anything for granted. I enjoy every moment of being with teammates, coaches and fans. Hopefully, we’re going to have fun this season.”

Avdija noted that he enjoyed playing in Washington in front of actual spectators. “The atmosphere changed; we have some fans now,” he said. “I can see people in the stands. Those things felt good.”

He also feels more relaxed not being a new player. “I wasn’t as ‘shocked’ as in my first year. Some players I came up against last year, it wasn’t easy. In the second year, you know where you are—you know the arena, you’ve seen all the teams and all the defenses in the league. I feel more experienced—mature, stronger and better.”

Yet there are challenges ahead as he eases back this season. Avdija is aware of what he needs to do to get ready for the 82-game regular season, which runs from October to April.

“The first thing I wanted to experience was the pace of the game. I have to get used to the pace and physicality and playing defense, and having energy running up and down and going through plays. I’m not going to lie—it wasn’t easy for me,” he acknowledged. “It’s not easy coming in after six months. My body needs to adjust.”

But, he said, “I’m getting there. It is a good first step for me.”

The Wizards have two more preseason games before starting their regular season on the road against the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 20.

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