The last time a Jew was picked in the NBA draft was in 2017, when the Indiana Pacers selected TJ Leaf. The last player raised in Israel selected in the NBA draft was Omri Casspi whom the Sacramento Kings selected in 2009. The list was updated on August 20, 2020, when highly sought-after Israeli prospect Deni Avdija was selected by the Washington Wizards with the ninth overall pick.
Deni Avdija (Av-dee-ya) was born on January 3, 2001, in Kibbutz Beit Zera to an Israeli mother, Sharon, and a Serbian father, Zufer. Zufer played professionally for Yugoslavia in the 1980s and played for various basketball clubs in Israel during the ‘90s. Avdija began playing basketball at a young age and initially competed at the youth level for Bnei Herzliya. By 2013, he joined the youth team for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel’s premier basketball team. Four years later, at age sixteen, he became the youngest person to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv’s senior team. In the 2019-2020 season, Avdija averaged about 13 points and 6 rebounds per game while only playing about 28 minutes per game. Avdija amassed many accolades throughout his career in Israel, including the Israeli League MVP award and All-Israeli League First Team. These impressive statistics made him a desirable NBA prospec. With the ninth overall pick,he became the highest picked Israeli in the NBA draft and only the second Israeli to be picked in the first round since Casspi was the 23rd pick in 2009.
In a pleasant surprise, Avdija was not the only Israeli picked on draft night. Although he was not seen in any mock drafts, Yam Madar was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 47th pick in the second round. Madar, the 19-year-old guard from Beit Dagan, is of Mizrachi descent. He has played his last few seasons for Hapoel Tel Aviv. Madar won Most Improved Player for the 2019-2020 season and intrigued some NBA scouts. Since the Celtics think that Madar needs some more polishing around the edges, he will continue to play for Hapoel this season and next season they will re-evaluate. Nonetheless, this was the first time that two Israelis were selected in the same draft.
Avdija and Madar have the potential to be a huge inspiration for Israelis and Jews around the world. There have been very few Jewish or Israeli players in the NBA, meaning that many young Jews watching had nobody to relate to, thinking they could never play that level of basketball. Avdija and Madar have the potential to inspire and encourage thousands of young stars; they can teach kids that with hard work (and maybe a little luck in the gene lottery), they too can also achieve their goals.