fb-pixel Skip to main content

Dragan Bender offers Celtics ‘a little bit of everything’

Dragan Bender (left) averaged 5.5 points and 14.5 minutes a game for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season.Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty

Dragan Bender, the 7-foot-1-inch Croatian who is the most intriguing prospect in this year’s NBA Draft, arrived in the United States last weekend after completing his pro season in Israel and went about chasing his NBA dream.

The skilled 18-year-old, who could be selected by the Celtics with the third overall pick, spent three days working out and undergoing medical testing in Maryland. On Wednesday afternoon, he departed for a three-team tour that will include visits with the Timberwolves, Suns, and Celtics.

He will arrive at Boston’s training facility next Tuesday, just two days before the draft.

“Boston is a great team with a lot of history and everything,” Bender said in a phone interview with the Globe Wednesday. “So I’m looking forward to working out with Boston, and we’ll see what will be in this draft.”


Bender said the Celtics have a “huge following” in Europe, and he knew that several Croatians have played for the team over the years.

Celtics executives went to Israel two weeks ago and saw Bender in an individual workout as well as a session with his older brother Ivan, who plays for the University of Maryland. The Celtics also watched Bender in a full practice with his pro team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and they went out to dinner with him.

“He’s been a fantastic player,” said Celtics president of basketball Danny Ainge. “At his age group and playing a little bit above his age group in international competition, he’s been a player that’s really stood out among a lot of players in the rest of the world.”

This season Bender averaged 5.5 points and 3 rebounds in just 14.5 minutes per game for Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the top teams in the high-level Euroleague. Despite those modest numbers, he has shown great potential as a skilled shooter, a gifted passer, and a big man capable of spreading the floor on offense and switching onto smaller, quicker guards on defense.


“A little bit of everything,” Bender said when asked what he will bring to an NBA roster next season. “I can do everything on the court, but basically just hard work on both ends of the floor and just trying to help the team to win some games.”

The past week has been a whirlwind. Bender’s agent, Doug Neustadt, was leery of overworking him so soon after arriving in the US, so despite high demand, they set a limit of three predraft workouts with NBA teams.

The Celtics, Suns, and Timberwolves hold the third through fifth picks in the draft, and Bender figures to fall somewhere in that range. But league executives have been traveling to see Bender play in Europe for several years.

“The feedback has been really positive, and with any of these guys, it’s ‘What is he going to be in three or four years?’ ” Neustadt said. “I think that’s what people are trying to figure out.

“But they see his skill level and what he can do and his IQ on the court, and being able to mesh with guys who have been playing basketball at the pro level for 10-plus years.”

Bender is eager to begin this next phase of his career. After completing his workouts over the next week, he will attend the draft next Thursday in New York, where he will be accompanied by his older brother.


“Always as a basketball player you have a dream to play in the NBA and [be chosen] in the NBA Draft,” Bender said, “But maybe basically one year or two years [ago] I realized I can do that if I work even harder to make it happen.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.