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Israel’s Avdija headlines strong international draft class

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DENI Avdija and France’s Killian Hayes are among the international players expected to be selected early on in Wednesday’s National Basketball Association (NBA) draft and the teenagers are already generating buzz in their home countries.

Avdija is a 6-foot-9 forward with the ball-handling skills of a guard who is an outstanding passer and tough defender. He is also reportedly a world-class trash talker, a skill honed during his time in FIBA and EuroLeague.

The 19-year-old is expected to be selected as early as fifth in this year’s draft, which is being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That would make him the highest-drafted Israeli player ever and just the second player from Israel to be drafted in the first round. Omri Casspi was drafted 23rd overall in 2009.

Avdija is already the talk of Israeli sports media.

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“Basketball is the second-most popular sport in Israel, after soccer, in terms of watching, playing and media coverage,” Gil Barak, an NBA analyst and commentator with Sport 5 in Israel, told Reuters.

“Deni being among the highest picks in the upcoming draft is the main talking point among almost every Israeli sports fan in general, and the basketball circle in particular and has grown over the last few years.”

It is no surprise the 2020 Israeli League MVP has impressed NBA scouts, given who his parents are.

Avdija’s father, Zufer, won a bronze medal with Yugoslavia at the 1982 FIBA Basketball World Championship and played professionally in Serbia and Israel. His mother, Sharon Artzi, is a former championship runner.

Hayes, also 19, is a crafty left-handed point guard who has been eyed by the New York Knicks, who have the eighth pick and are in the market for guards.

Hayes was born in Florida but raised in France and most recently played in the German Basketball Bundesliga league. He will be the highest-drafted French player if he is taken in the top seven.

“This could be a historic moment for French basketball,” said Remi Reverchon, an NBA analyst and commentator with beIN Sports in France.

Reverchon said basketball has become a cultural phenomenon in France, a country that also produced Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert.

“There is a real sense of anticipation,” he said.

“France has produced a long line of NBA players, so there will be a certain level of expectation.”

Italy’s Leandro Bolmaro, Nigeria’s Precious Achiuwa and Serbia’s Aleksej Pokusevski are also expected to be drafted in the first round. American LaMelo Ball is widely expected to be selected first overall.

The NBA has become a more global league in recent years.

There have been more than 100 international players on NBA rosters for six consecutive seasons, and over the last 10 years, there have been 27 international players drafted in the top 10, including 16 in the top five. — Reuters

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