Deni Avdija, a forward on the Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv basketball team, was selected by the Washington Wizards in the 2020 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft held virtually last night.

Another Israeli player, Hapoel Tel Aviv point guard Yam Madar, was selected by the Boston Celtics as the 47th overall pick in the second round of the draft.

They follow in the footsteps of Omri Casspi, selected in 2009, and Gal Mekel in 2013. Casspi played 10 years for NBA teams before returning to Israel and becoming Avdija’s Maccabi Tel Aviv teammate.

Avdija (pronounced “Av-dee-ya”), who turns 20 in January, was the ninth overall pick, the highest draft spot ever achieved by an Israeli player. He is expected to sign a three-year rookie contract worth $12.5 million.

Born on a kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee, Avdija has two athletic parents. His father, Zufer, is a Muslim Serb from Kosovo who played pro basketball in Yugoslavia in the 1980s and then in Israel. His mother, Sharon Artzi, competed in basketball and track-and-field.

Standing at 6-foot-9, Avdija joined Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth team at age 12 and signed with the pro team at 16. He was crowned season MVP when Maccabi won the 2019-2020 national championship. He has been working out at a training base in Atlanta, where he had exposure to several NBA teams.

being hoisted by teammates. Photo courtesy of Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv

Veljko Perovic, a former assistant coach at Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv who worked closely with Avdija over the last four years, was quoted on the Maccabi website as saying that Avdija “has a great desire to compete, win and develop… He radiates optimism, and this is his greatest quality that probably sets him apart.”

Speaking at a press conference after the draft, Avdija thanked Israelis for their support and promised to make them proud. “Even though we’re a small country we can do big things,” he said.

Avdija added that he and teammate Casspi have “talked a lot about the rookie year specifically, about the skills I would need, all the travel and the schedule.”

Deni Avdija ESPN Interview at 2020 NBA Draft

The highest Israeli draft pick in NBA history. ????????"I'm gonna make you proud. I'm gonna work 100%."#WizDraft | GEICO

Posted by Washington Wizards on Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Beit Dagan resident Madar, who turns 20 in December, was Avdija’s teammate on the Israel National Team that won FIBA U20 European Championships in 2019.

He has spent the last three seasons with Hapoel Tel Aviv and received the Israeli Premier League’s 2019-20 Most Improved Player Award.

NBA.com reported about him: “Madar possesses good size for his position at 6-foot-3 to go along with an electrifying quickness and developing frame. He is a quick decision maker who has great court vision and ball-handling skills, playing lower and wider with his feet. He makes his teammates better with his excellent play-making ability. He’s a great passer who often surprises the fans with his quick and sharp dimes.”