Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv's prized forward Deni Avdija shined over the past week in leading Israel to its second consecutive gold medal at the U20 European Championship. The 18-year-old was rewarded for his fantastic play when he was named tournament MVP after leading Israel over Spain 92-84 in Sunday night's title game before a sold-out crowd in Tel Aviv.
Avdija turned in a tournament for the ages and was ranked among the leaders in every major statistical category; he was second in average performance index rating (22.6) and blocks (2.4), and fifth in points (18.4), rebounding (8.3), assists (5.3) and steals (2.1). Avdija was at his best in the biggest games, leading Israel in scoring in both the semifinal and final. He produced 26 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocks to lift Israel over France 70-81 in Saturday's semifinal and had 23 points, 5 boards, 7 assists and 3 blocks in the championship game.
Avdija's performance capped a special season in his career. Not only did he make his Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut at age 17 and appear in eight games -- including double-digit scoring performances in the final two games of the season -- but he also shined for Maccabi's junior team, being named to the 2019 Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals All-Tournament Team. He helped Maccabi win the Israeli League championship, too.
"Being a winner means believing that you are going to take the cup from the beginning, to give everything. I can say that all my teammates here are winners. You can look at all of them in the face and see that they are the biggest winners in the world," Avdija said after Sunday's game. "I think we proved things, I think we showed how much we want, how much we fight. Not all the players in the top leagues have what we have, the spirit, the fight, never giving up. I think our future is bright."
Avdija joins a long list of EuroLeague stars-in-the-making who were MVPs at the U20 championships. Current EuroLeague players who have won that award include CSKA Moscow's Nikita Kurbanov for Russia in 2005, Olympiacos Piraeus's Kostas Papanikolaou for Greece in 2009, FC Barcelona's Nikola Mirotic for Spain in 2011, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul's Leo Westermann for France in 2012, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan's Amadeo Della Valle for Italy in 2013, and Avdija's Maccabi teammate Yovel Zoosman for Israel in 2018. Besides Kurbanov and Papanikolaou, other future EuroLeague champions who captured the U20 tourney's MVP trophy were Nikos Zisis (Greece, 2002), Erazem Lorbek (Slovenia, 2004) and Milos Teodosic (Serbia, 2007).