Alvark Tokyo player Daiki Tanaka may have finally earned the credit he deserves.
The shooting guard was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2019-20 campaign on Sunday, the third and final night of the B. League Award Show, which was held online this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The MVP was chosen from the Best Five team, which was also revealed Sunday, with Tanaka receiving the most votes from top-division players and head coaches and the media.
The 28-year-old Tanaka led the East Conference team to the league’s best record (32-9) this season, which was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. He played in all but two games, averaging 11.1 points, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals.
“This is something I hadn’t won before and I’m thankful for being evaluated like this, although the season ended the way it did,” said Tanaka, who was a key part in the Alvark’s title runs in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
Tanaka’s scoring average was the lowest for an MVP in the four-year history of the league. Makoto Hiejima, then of the SeaHorses Mikawa, previously held that distinction with a 12.9 average in 2017-18. Tanaka’s ability to play at a high level on both ends of the floor, however, helped him capture the honor.
“I’ve always wanted to be a player who has a lot of different skills and can play at a high level in any aspect of the game,” the Nagasaki Prefecture native said. “And that’s my strength. I have pride in my defensive game and that’s what I’m asked to do for the national team as well. So I’m pleased those things are taken into account.”
Tanaka isn’t ready to rest on his laurels just yet, despite being given the league’s highest individual accolade, because he feels he still has a long way to go in order to become the player he wants to be.
“When I play internationally, like at the World Cup, I still feel I’m an immature player,” said Tanaka, a Tokai University alum who was part of the Akatsuki Five squad that finished 0-5 at the FIBA World Cup in China last year. “I haven’t reached the place I want to be at. So in order to help the B. League develop into a league whose players can compete on par at the global level, I think I have tons of things I need to do going forward.”
Tanaka was joined on the Best Five squad by Chiba Jets Funabashi point guard Yuki Togashi, last year’s MVP, SeaHorses’ scorer Kosuke Kanamaru, Kawasaki Brave Thunders guard Yuma Fujii and Utsunomiya Brex forward/center Ryan Rossiter.
Tanaka, Togashi and Kanamaru each made the team for the fourth year in a row while Fujii and Rossiter, who earned Japanese citizenship and debuted for the national team in February, were named for the first time.
In a twist, Fuji, 28, was also named the Sixth Man of the Year and was the Defensive Player of the Year as well. The high-energy player, who finished fourth in the league with 5.0 assists per game, usually comes off the bench but started 19 of his team’s 40 contests to help fill in for injured teammates Ryusei Shinoyama and Naoto Tsuji. It paid off for Kawasaki, which ended up winning the Central Conference title with a 31-9 record.
“I’d be happy with winning one award but I’m more so with three,” said Fujii, who also won the sixth man award in the 2017-18.
Asked which of the three he was happiest to receive, the he said: “The Best Five (honor) goes to the top five players who genuinely play the best in the whole league. So I’m excited to be part of the Best Five.
“But winning the Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year are meaningful as well, so it’s hard to say which one. I’m happy with them all.”
Jumbo-kun of the Jets maintained his dominance as the most popular mascot by winning the Mascot of the Year award for the third consecutive year. His reign will come to an end next year as he’s no longer eligible for the award, having been inducted into “the Hall of Fame.”