Deni Avdija already possesses an impressive list of career accomplishments including carrying U18 Maccabi Teddy Tel Aviv to the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Munich first-place game. But the guard talent is more concentrated on just living the dream of being a basketball player.
Avdija was an MVP candidate in his performance in Munich and ended up being named to the All-Tournament Team as the event's leader in scoring (24.3 ppg.), assists (6.0 apg.). Steals (3.8 spg.) and performance index rating (31.5). He also ranked second in rebounds (11.0 rpg.).
"It's an honor to play here. It's good for me to play these minutes here and play and get this experience," said Avdija, who turned 18 on January 3. "It's an amazing competition and I'm proud that I am here and I am very proud that we are winning games and competing. I asked my senior team if I could come here and play and I respect their choice."
Avdija said being on the court with the guys he knows so well and playing against the best in Europe is special.
"I had so much fun coming here to this beautiful arena and playing with my best friends on the court and winning games. That's huge for me. That's what I play: to have fun and compete with my friends and fight with my friends. That's the best that I can ask for."
Avdija was the clear leader of the Maccabi team, which did not compete in the ANGT last season and last played in the ANGT Finals in 2006-07. He was hoping for some more magical moments in Germany after his last trip to the country ended with Israel winning its first national team continental crown when it captured the title at the FIBA U20 European Championship 2018 in Chemnitz.
"Goosebumps really. I can hardly express what it meant for me and what that team was like for me. A big, big, big experience and really an honor to represent my country and bring them the first gold medal and I will try my hardest to win all the trophies I can in the world," said Avdija, who averaged 12.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.3 steals in that event. That performance earned him a spot on the tournament's All-Star Five – at the tender age of 17 years old.
"I think age really doesn't matter. I am not thinking about my age," Avdija explained. "When I play at the senior level I am not thinking about how young I am or how weak I am. I am not thinking about this. I am playing my game and really everybody has their own development pace. Everybody develops at different speeds and I am not worried."
The 2.05-meter guard has basketball greatness in his blood; he is the son of former Crvena Zvezda Belgrade team captain and Yugoslavian international Zufer Avdija. The younger Avdija has already made history with Maccabi when he became the youngest player to debut with the club. He was 16 years and 320 days. when he appeared in an Israeli League game against Ironi Nes-Ziona on November 19, 2017.
"I was nervous, but my teammates shared the ball with me. They wanted me to score and I am thankful for this," said Avdija, who missed his two three-point shot attempts in 3 minutes of action that night. Nearly a year later - on November 22, 2018 - Avdija made his Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut when Maccabi hosted Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul at Menora Mivtachim Arena.
"There I wasn't nervous. I was confident. I came into the game super ready and super motivated. I didn't get a lot of minutes but I tried my best and I am thankful that I scored that basket. It was very emotional for me. It's a moment that will stay with me all my life," said Avdija, who scored 2 points on one shot attempt in 2:28 minutes of action and has totaled 1:57 minutes in two other EuroLeague games this season.
Avdija said he is working hard to convince head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos to give him more playing time.
"I am doing everything I can. I am working hard and I see myself in practices really getting better. Day by day I am progressing and making coach trust me more. I am trying to play good defense. I am not worried about playing, but am working and being thankful for the minutes I get. They are important. But I shouldn't worry. They will come," said Avdija, who is averaging 3.2 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 10.7 minutes over 12 games in the Israeli League.
Avdija practices solely with Maccabi's senior team so Munich was a chance to play with his boyhood friends - something he valued very much. But it was also just a chance to do something he truly loves and cherishes: playing the game. And that is something he expresses with every social media post with the hashtag #LivingTheDream.
"It's so much fun. Every day I just say thanks for another day that I can touch the ball and score and be in gyms and just be with a lot of good guys and my teammates. It's really #LivingTheDream and I won't change it. That will always stay my motto."
Just living the dream while accomplishing great things.