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Israeli basketball prodigy shines in first NBA appearance

Deni Avdija of the Washington Wizards (Photo: Twitter/Washington Wizards)

The 19-year old Israeli basketball prodigy Deni Avdija wasted no time in showing the Washington Wizards that they made a good choice by drafting him in the first round when the rookie scored 15 point in an NBA pre-season game Sunday night.

Although the game ended with the Wizards losing to the Brooklyn Nets by a score of 119-114, Wizards fans had much to cheer about. Avdija shot a trio each of two-point and three-point shots, along with four rebounds and two assists.

“The dream is starting to come true,” said Avdija after the game. “I was tense at first, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m at Barclays Center playing against players I grew up watching.’ But after a few minutes I started feeling comfortable and focused.”

Another big moment for Avdija during Sunday’s game was his reunion with Maccabi Tel Aviv Amar’e Stoudemire, who is an assistant coach for the Nets this season.

"Amar’e was a big part of me, a big part of my game," said Avdija. "He was a professional. He always came first to the gym. We were always talking about things. I was always asking about the NBA and he always answered me, no matter what the time or no matter how tired he was or angry he was, he always sat with me and answered my questions.”

He admitted it would be “a little bit weird” to face off against his friend and former teammate, but in the end “Amar’e is Amar’e and I will always love to see him."

As disappointing as it is to lose a game, the pre-season contests are mainly an opportunity for rookies to show their teams what they’ve got, and since so many of the Wizard’s regular starters are currently out of action due to injuries and contract disputes, Avdija took full advantage of his opportunity. The Wizard’s coaching staff was impressed by what they saw.

“[I liked] that he competed, that he took the challenge,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said of Avdija postgame. “He was playing against some high-level players, players that have a lot of success in this league that have experience. From day one, I knew Deni had it. He scored well and he's just getting better with time.”

"Deni is very talented,” added the Wizards veteran point guard Raul Neto. “Everyone sitting on the bench was impressed with his confidence and skills. He is a very good player. We talked before the game and he seemed a bit tense, but that's normal. I'm sure he will gain more and more confidence over time and will turn into a big contributor for us."

His performance was also praised by local sports commentators, among them NBC’s Washington affiliate.

“Washington has found its small forward. Avdija should clearly be developed by the team into its 3, and that could be seen after one preseason game," one commentator said. "He is tough, has good size and offensive diversity. He is only 19 years old, but his start is very impressive.”

Avdija was modest in his own comments to the media after the game telling reporters that he had worked hard to get where he was and that he was grateful for the opportunity to play in the NBA.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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