(Reuters) – Despite holding the ninth pick in the NBA Draft, the Washington Wizards were successful in their chase for Israel’s versatile Deni Avdija as the franchise picked one of the up-and-coming international stars on Wednesday.
Unlike many of his fellow draftees, 19-year-old Avdija has professional experience having played two EuroLeague seasons with Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
In the 2019-20 season, he also became the youngest player to ever win the Israeli League’s Most Valuable Player award.
The 6-foot-9 forward with the ball-handling skills of a guard is capable of playing in different positions and has been on the Wizards’ radar for years.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of him. Our international scouts have been on this kid since he was 16,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said, adding it was a “no-brainer” to sign him.
“We were very grateful he fell to nine (on the draft)… He’s a proven player, having played in EuroLeague. He’s got character, work ethic – he checked all of our boxes.”
Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said he “loved Tommy’s enthusiasm” after they managed to capture Avdija.
“He was so fired up, I thought he was going to be like Carl Lewis, running 100 meters in 9.3 (seconds),” Brooks said. “To see the excitement in drafting Deni, it just fired me up.”
Israel have had players such as Omri Casspi play in the NBA before but Avdija is the highest draft pick from the country in NBA history.
“I didn’t imagine that, it was crazy for me,” Avdija said.
“Israel is such a small country that doesn’t provide as many NBA players as other countries, but for me just to represent my country and to make history, that’s a blessing.
“I have the whole nation behind me … I never dreamed about this moment. I’m thinking it’s just still a dream.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar)