“He has things that came from God” Interview with Veljko Perovic, Deni Avdija’s Closest Coach

Dec 25, 2020 | Deni Avdija

When the Washington Wizards drafted Deni Avdija with the ninth overall pick, they were inheriting multiple years of investment put in by Maccabi Tel Aviv and assistant coach Veljko Perovic. First meeting Avdija at the age of 13, Perovic has been the rookie’s closest coach and trainer for the last five-plus years. Now in DC to help Avdija with his transition to the United States and NBA, Perovic took the time to speak to Sports Rabbi providing exclusive insights on the newest Washington Wizard.

On Deni Avdija’s daily practice routine:
“First-year when he was 14, we did only physically. He was very talented, but with his body, he was all around. He was young, taller than anybody. He was a really fun kid to be around. We only taught basics first year, learn how to take care of his body. To prepare his body for something that is coming, more serious work. These practices were also before school at 6:30. Every other year, we never quit on early morning practices. Practice starts at 6, 6:30, we finish around 8, 9, 10. School started at 8:30 but they gave us the opportunity to work him more. Then he will go to school, after school he would grab lunch, rest a little bit, we go to the second practice, and then he would go home. For the next three years, it was basically this process and two more years that he was in the senior team where again he had a lot of things to do outside. He practiced much more than the senior team of Maccabi. He needed to develop more than anybody.

Deni Avdija checks in to make his pro debut – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“When you’re a great talent, that means you also have a responsibility to have a great work ethic and better work ethic because it’s harder to achieve for a great talent than somebody who is only average potential. He continued to work the same all the time and it needs to be like this until the end of his career. He needs to take care of his body, he needs to be better in every skill, he needs to be better in every aspect of the game, and of life. Not only in his career that I hope is going to be 20 years in the NBA, but I hope that he is going to do this until pension. Pension he can relax, 60, 70 years old. Basically, he is a kid that works a lot, every day he had the purpose. When you are talented you need to understand you need to work hard and of course be surrounded by smart people. It was a big process and not easy, not many people could go through this, but it’s only the beginning. He knows what he needs to do for the next several years.”

Veljko Perovic and Deni Avdija – Photo Credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv

On how a teenager can buy into such a routine:
“His father was a great player and his mother is a great competitor, she missed the Olympic Games by two seconds. She knows how to fail and then step forward, she has a great winning attitude. His father had 40 points in his hands. In Yugoslavia back then when his father was a great player, they worked even more. They were preparing much more than any of the players today. He has a lot of stories from home that’s first and then when he came to practice he had a lot of stories there. With this generation you cannot storm them with hard work, everything was incremental progress. When he saw he was developing and when he started feeling better and better about himself and he start to see results, then you buy-in. Everybody loves to be good. He has a great physical attitude and a desire to develop it and win. This is something that Washington Wizards got and hope they will nurture this potential that he has.”

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit Washington Wizards

On Deni Avdija’s biggest strengths that are immediately NBA ready:
“The team gets a person that is easy to be around. He’s very positive and optimistic and this is one of the greatest values of a person with a winning attitude. Deni has great emotions, he’s there to help everybody, pick everybody up. He has things that came from God, understanding of the game, understanding of space, time. He’s playing the game not only the correct way and with his great attitude and character. He doesn’t take the spotlight of anybody. He brings a lot of experience from EuroLeague. For him it is meant to play tough every play like in EuroLeague we must win every game and every possession must be good. He brings with himself the responsibility to win and for him, this is the most important. He was brought up from the start in Maccabi like this.”

On areas Deni Avdija will need to improve:
“To understand the culture of United States, to understand the culture of NBA. It is different rules, it is different expectations. He needs to grow faster and adjust faster. Basically, that’s it. Deni can in practice make five thousand shots every day, he can practice all day so now it is only how he will adjust and how the Wizards will help him adjust.”

Deni Avdija ans Bradley Beal – Photo Credit Washington Wizards

On where Deni Avdija has had his biggest strides:
“With most talented players, you see development day by day. This is the luck I had. Still to this day he is developing day by day. There is always some little things that are meaningful. He’s growing as a young person, as a young man, as a young talent every day. Baby steps. His first practice in the NBA was very difficult, then second and third and you can see how he is becoming more comfortable. To see somebody you could only watch on TV or play video games with now to play versus all of these players is something special. The goal is to as soon as possible be able to run with the bests and he is now running with the best players in the world. That’s the development from these last seven days. Right now we are still experiencing day by day development. Of course, not everything is perfect, but day by day, step by step it is going to be better and better and we will all witness development.”

Deni Avdija of Maccabi Tel Aviv battles Panathinakos in December 2019

On Deni Avdija’s lack of statistical production with Maccabi:
“If you come into EuroLeague, it’s different in terms of competition. He played with probably 30, 40, 50 ex-NBA players, I’m not saying they were superstars, but they were players that touched NBA in one way or another. In Europa the most important thing is to win, everything counts. If you have two, three losses in a row, everybody is shaking. First people to trust him, that he will be able to be an essential part of the team, it is something remarkable. You could easily see the process of his development and trust that other players had in him more and more from the beginning to end of the season. His minutes rose in all competitions, his starts rose, his role was rising every game. Until the end of the season when he established himself as one of the two, three most important players of the team. It’s very hard for the average fan to understand this process, but maybe in 10 years they will watch Deni and understand a little bit better. Deni fought for everything, he didn’t get anything for free, everything he got, he deserved. Deni needed to fight and grow and he did.”

On Deni Avdija’s shooting mechanics:
“Deni never had a free summer, he never had time off. It was always development in playing together. Somebody should make a statistic of how many games he played, how many competitions. Where was this free time so he could develop his super skillset and not thinking about anything else? If he had some free time, to be able to completely only develop his skillset would have been nice, but now he is the best NBA ready. Last year from the beginning until the end of the season, he developed greatly in shooting, but now we go half-meter backward so it’s not like a walk in the park. I say six to eight, nine more months until he feels like this is the free-throw line, this NBA three-point line. He needs to be consistent with routines and put a lot of psychological energy and focus to achieve this. Especially because he did not have regular circumstances, he didn’t have Summer League, he didn’t have time to practice at the Wizards court three months before the season in the arena. So we don’t expect spectacular things immediately.”

On Deni Avdija’s first two preseason game performances:
“I really enjoyed every second of these two games. I’ve seen everything that I’ve hoped to see. He’s rebounding, he’s pushing the ball, he’s facilitating, he’s playing simple. First game he was super effective, second game he was not so effective, but the positions he’s holding on the court is something I’ve hoped for and very impressive.”

Deni Avdija – Photo Credit Washington Wizards

On what others should know about Deni Avdija:
“It is one person that loves to give attention to the ordinary people, he’s grateful for everything he has, he works hard, and the most important thing is that he exudes positive energy around himself. This is special. He gives smile, makes you laugh. He’s still a kid and hope he is going to be like this all the way.”

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