Deni Avdija tips off NBA season with goal of putting Israel “on the map”

Israeli NBA player Deni Avdija of the Washington Wizards, October 2021. Source: Screenshot.

by Howard Blas

(JNS) — Deni Avdija took one look at all of the members of the Israeli media on the Zoom screen armed with questions and joked that he was worried he’d miss the Washington Wizards team flight to Toronto. The Wizards kicked off the NBA regular season on Oct. 20 with a victory against the Toronto Raptors. Avdija had eight points and one assist in 21 minutes of playing time.

Avdija has worked hard to come back from his April 21 season-ending fracture in his right ankle. “I always play the hardest I can and want to be perfect from the beginning,” he says.

Yet he knows this isn’t always realistic. “The people I love tell me it doesn’t come right away. I was rushing to be faster than before, to score more. I know I should just be patient and just be better every day.”

The 20-year-old Israeli is a tough competitor and even tougher self-critic. He also shows signs of maturity and insight as he enters his second NBA season.

Coach Wes Unseld has high hopes for Avdija and anticipates him having a “bigger role” on the team. “He has the capability to be a playmaker. We will move him around to understand all five spots on the floor.”

Unseld also insists that Avdija earn his playing time. “He’s not there yet. He has to earn those minutes.”

Of course, Unseld actively continues to help Avdija develop his mental game. “We have a lot of confidence in Deni; we want him to have as much confidence in himself as we have in him. He just needs more — bottom line.”

Unseld notes that the final team pre-season practice was devoted to mental preparation.

He further shares that Avdija stays after practice regularly and asks questions in an effort to constantly improve and to master positions. He notes that he had made some mistakes in the team’s recent practice and wanted to better understand what he had done wrong. “Me and Anthony Gill stayed and brought three coaches to run all of our plays — we want to be perfect.”

Avdija has three goals for the upcoming seasons: to be more aggressive, more experienced and more confident. He also hopes to continue getting to know and enjoy his teammates. “We are doing stuff together. The off-the-court stuff is helping us on the court, too!”

Avdija says he’d also like to continue being a goodwill ambassador for Israel and Judaism, much like his friend and mentor Omri Casspi did during his 10 years in the NBA. Due to Covid precautions, he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to get to know the local Jewish community or interact with fans.

But he notes, “I try to implement a lot of Israeli atmosphere [into my daily life] with food, holidays, in every way that I can. I haven’t met the Jewish community yet, but I am excited and looking forward to doing many things together.”

He says he’s also looking forward to helping put “Israel on the map, as they say.”

For now, Avdija is focusing on the NBA season. “In the meantime, I am concentrating on my basketball, coming back from my injury, so I didn’t have a lot of time, but I believe that in the future, we will have great times.”