Basketball / B. League

SeaHorses star Makoto Hiejima named 2017-18 MVP at B. League Award Show

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Makoto Hiejima is the face of the B. League’s sophomore season.

The SeaHorses Mikawa slashing shooting guard was selected as the league’s Most Valuable Player for the 2017-18 season, it was announced at the B. League Award Show at Ebisu Garden Place on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old averaged 12.9 points, 4.1 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. He played in 55 regular-season games (44 starts) for the SeaHorses, who posted the league’s best record at 48-12.

Mikawa was eliminated in the playoff semifinals by the eventual league champion Alvark Tokyo.

“I just knew that I was chosen at the same timing as you all,” Hiejima told the fans. “So my head is blank, I don’t know what to say.”

Hiejima competed while overcoming a personal sorrow that hit him toward the end of the season. His mother Junko passed away on April 21.

The Fukuoka native said that there were bumps along the way during the season, including the death of his mother, but he was able to accomplish what did because of the support from his fans, teammates and all others whom he is associated with.

“For the sake of my mother and development of basketball (in Japan), I would like to keep doing the best I can, both on the national team and in the B. League, so that this league will get further recognition,” he said, sobbing. “Hopefully, I will be able to keep showcasing exciting plays to appeal to those who don’t know the B. League, and will return to this Award Show to once again win the MVP, having a more convincing performance than this year.”

Hiejima was also chosen on the Best Five team along with his teammate Kosuke Kanamaru, Chiba Jets Funabashi point guard Yuki Togashi, playoff MVP Daiki Tanaka of the Alvark and last year’s MVP, Nick Fazekas, who plays for the Kawasaki Brave Thunders.

The Best Five members were exactly the same as last year’s. The MVP, Best Five and Rookie of the Year accolade were chosen based on voting from media, players and head coaches.

What was a little surprising was that Alvark forward Yudai Baba was named Rookie of the Year. The 22-year-old dunker, who joined the East Division club when he was still a University of Tsukuba senior this season, beat some other first-year players like Kyoto Hannaryz point guard Tatsuya Ito (9.0 points, 4.4 assists playing in 56 games) despite missing 20 games due to a series of injuries.

Baba, who has already established himself as one of the most popular players in the league thanks to his flashy plays, averaged 8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He made seven starts.

Yuma Fujii, a Brave Thunders backup guard, received the Best Sixth Man accolade. He contributed 8.6 points and 3.5 assists, playing in all 60 games.

The Defensive Player of the Year crown went to Mikawa’s heart and soul performer Ryoma Hashimoto.

“(The media) often give me the spotlight because of my defense,” said Hashimoto, a 30-year-old guard. “But I don’t consider (myself) all that much of a good defender. But I’m excited that I was given credit for what I’ve accumulated on the court.”

Luka Pavicevic, who guided the Alvark to the title this year, was chosen as the best head coach.

The Levanga Hokkaido, who made an impressive rise in home attendance this year, were the recipient of the “the Break the Boarder” award for an outstanding effort as a team. Hokkaido drew the second-most fans to its home games, averaging 3,743, up almost by 1,000 from last season. The Levanga had 6,922 fans at their final regular season game on May 6, which was the most in club history and the No. 1 figure in the league this year.

Meanwhile, the Chiba Jets Funabashi dominated in some of the other club accolades. They had the top number in home attendance, while they were also crowned as the “top social media” and “best hospitality” club.

Jets veteran center Shunsuke Ito, who retired at the end of this season, was honored as the “social media leader.”

Akita Northern Happinets sharpshooter Shigehiro Taguchi was named MVP of the second division. Taguchi, who averaged 11.7 points and was third in 3-point percentage (42.7), helped the Tohoku team return to the top division after one season in B2.

Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka forward Josh Peppers was chosen as the second-division postseason MVP.