Deni Avdija

Deni Avdija, right, grabs a rebound against the Cleveland Cavaliers Nov. 9. 

Deni Avdija knows he has an entire country behind him. But the Washington Wizards second-year forward also knows he has to take care of business on the court.

Avdija, who was born in Beit Zera, a kibbutz in northern Israel, came to Cleveland Nov. 9 when his Wizards played the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. He had two rebounds and one steal in 16 minutes in a 97-94 victory over the Cavs.

“I just play my game,” Avdija told the Cleveland Jewish News Nov. 10. “I don’t really think about it. I love that I have a lot of support back home. People really like seeing my success. It means a lot to me to represent my country. So, it’s an honor for me to play.”

Avdija was selected ninth overall in the National Basketball Association Draft by the Wizards in 2020. His rookie season was cut short when he fractured his right ankle during a game against the Golden State Warriors April 21.

Coming into the NBA, Avdija was lauded for his defensive toughness and playmaking ability on offense.

Avdija told the CJN that adjusting to the amount of games played in a year has been among the biggest adjustments in acclimating to the NBA. He spent three years playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Basketball Premier League, which only plays 36 regular season games as opposed to the NBA’s 82. He said he learned to take care of his body better, get used to the pace of the game, be more athletic, and work more on his body and recovery.

He was not alone when he transitioned to the NBA at just 19 years old. He said he was always able to ask questions and be mentored by former Maccabi Tel Aviv teammates and former NBA players Amar’e Stoudemire, Quincy Acy and Omri Casspi, the latter of whom played for the Cavs from 2011-2013.

Avdija said in an interview with JNS.org, prior to the season in October, he also wanted to continue being a goodwill ambassador for Israel and Judaism, much like Casspi did during his 10 years in the NBA. Due to COVID-19 precautions, he didn’t have an opportunity his rookie season to get to know the local Jewish community or interact with fans.

The Cavs play Avdija and the Wizards again in Washington at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 and Dec. 30. The next time he’s expected to play in Cleveland is at 8 p.m. Feb. 26, 2022.

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