22 November, 2021
28 February, 2023
8 Deni Avdija (ISR)
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From Avdija to Musa: The European players who went from World Cup Qualifiers to NBA Draft

MUNICH (Germany) - The time has come again when the next generation of European hopefuls wait to hear their name called during the prestigious NBA Draft.

But whilst only being at the start of their careers, sometimes players already have some experience under their belt - including at the international level.

We've taken a trip down memory lane, highlighting the European players who got their feet wet in the FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers prior to having their names called in the NBA Draft. 

Class of 2018: All eyes on mesmerizing Musa

Dzanan Musa had already burst onto the international scene at senior level before hearing his name called out on draft night. As a teenager, Musa scored 18 points against Russia during the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers having arrived with a big reputation as a junior.

Musa then later followed with 16 points against Belgium in the next window before exploding for a 26-point haul against Russia. The forward was taken as the 29th pick in the First Round in the summer before heading back to Europe and last season impressed in Spain.

Elie Okobo was the opening pick of the Second Round having also played in a handful of games for France in the same campaign with extended playing time against Belgium and Russia, while Arnoldas Kulboka scored 9 points for Lithuania in a win over Kosovo.

Other players taken in the 2018 NBA Draft that had already competed in the World Cup Qualifiers included Germany's Isaac Bongo and Latvia's Rodions Kurucs, who later returned to Europe for the 2021-22 season.

Player Round Pick Team 
Dzanan Musa (BIH) First Round 29th overall Brooklyn Nets
Elie Okobo (FRA) Second Round 31st overall Phoenix Suns
Isaac Bonga (GER) Second Round 39th overall Philadelphia 76ers
Rodions Kurucs (LAT) Second Round 40th overall Brooklyn Nets
Arnoldas Kulboka (LTU) Second Round 55th overall Charlotte Hornets

Class of 2019: Bitadze making a splash for Georgia

Goga Bitadze quickly established himself in the fold with Georgia's senior national team with increasingly consistent performances as a teenager during the World Cup Qualifiers. The center posted a run of five straight games with 10+ points including a double-double against Estonia - averaging 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in the campaign.

Later that summer, Bitadze was taken in the First Round of the NBA Draft by Indiana Pacers having remained with the franchise since. Bitadze is back in the mix with Georgia in a bid to help them qualify for the next edition of the World Cup.

Vanja Marinkovic featured for Serbia before being selected as the 60th pick in the Draft, but is yet to play in the NBA having remained in Europe and spending the past few years in Spain.

Player Round Pick Team 
Goga Bitadze (GEO) First Round 18th overall Indiana Pacers
Vanja Marinkovic (SRB) Second Round 60th overall Sacramento Kings

Class of 2020: Avdija, 17-year-old Mannion steal the spotlight

Deni Avdija had already made his senior debut for Israel before making it to the NBA. The talented teenager recorded 10 points against Serbia in February 2019 - over a year from becoming a top 10 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft - and also before starring at U20 level.

The forward also impressed during the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers and is set to return to national team action this summer having now had two years with Washington Wizards under his belt.

Theo Maldeon earned an early call-up to the French national team with Vit Krejci representing Czech Republic before they were taken as Second Round picks. Meanwhile, Nico Mannion scored 9 points for Italy back in February 2018 as a 17-year-old and after being drafted in 2020, he returned to his home country last season. 

Player Round Pick Team 
Deni Avdija (ISR) First Round 9th overall Washington Wizards
Theo Maledon (FRA) Second Round 34th overall Philadelphia 76ers
Vit Krejci (CZE) Second Round 37th overall Washington Wizards
Nico Mannion (ITA) Second Round  48th overall Golden State Warriors

Class of 2021: The future is bright

The most recent edition of FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers commenced in November 2021, already after the NBA Draft, so none of the European players selected could have realistically had a taste of World Cup action beforehand.

However, the likes of Filip Petrusev, Balsa Koprivica have featured for Serbia in the competition since, while a few others (Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba, Rokas Jokubaitis) played for the senior national team in other FIBA events.

There is a good chance we will see some other names from the Class of 2021 making their debuts at the top level during the upcoming June-July window.