Alex Illikainen, a 6-foot-8, 192-pound freshman from Grand Rapids, is considered the top player in the state in the Class of 2015. He made an unofficial visit to Minnesota last May and attended a Gopher football game this past fall. He has started to attract interest from several schools, including Minnesota, Creighton and Wisconsin. Minnesota assistant coach Vince Taylor recently watched Illikainen score 20 points in an 83-63 win over Duluth Denfeld. GopherHole.com recently caught up with Illikainen to learn the latest on his season.
Illikainen helped lead Grand Rapids to the Class AAA state boy’s basketball tournament as an eighth grader. Illikainen led the Thunderhawks to a 19-10 mark, losing to Waconia 62-52 in the first round of the state tournament. He finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds in the loss against Vanderbilt signee Shelby Moats.
Illikainen has had a strong spring and summer with the Cyclones AAU program, winning the Hoosier Shootout and Kentucky Hoopfest. They won the 14-and-under title in the Minnesota Comets Tournament and were third in the Spring Jam as they played up in the 15’s division and finished runnerup in the King of the Court tournament in Des Moines.
Illikainen, who also plays baseball, comes from an athletic family. His father, Darin, played hockey at UMD and was drafted by the New York Islanders. The former Hermantown standout is currently the girl’s hockey head coach at Grand Rapids. His mother, the former Mary Zgonc, played women’s basketball at UMD after starring at Chisholm.
His oldest sister, Morgan Illikainen, is a freshman at Dartmouth. She was the Rapids Herald-Review, Mesabi Daily News and Hibbing Daily Tribune Girls Hockey Player of the Year last season.
Molly Illikainen is a senior at Grand Rapids and she recently played for the USA team in the Under 18 World Championships. The Providence signee is one of ten finalists for the Ms. Hockey Award.
GopherHole.com recently caught up with Illikainen to learn the latest on his season.
GopherHole: Obviously a big win over an out-state opponent. How do you feel about the win?
Alex Illikainen: It feels great. A big, long game, three overtimes. They were really physical. Good defense. We kept taking it to them and this whole trip made it excellent.
GopherHole: You had a couple of leads in the game, but they kept coming back.
Alex Illikainen: They just kept fighting and we let them back in. In the last overtime, we shut them off and kept getting a few buckets and ended up with the win.
GopherHole: You are now 16-3 and you have to be awfully pleased with how well you are playing?
Alex Illikainen: Yes, very pleased. We are all playing as a team and everyone is working hard in practice and it is going good.
GopherHole: You had a big win against Duluth East recently, a team that has three very talented players on their roster.
Alex Illikainen: Johnny (Woodard) and them, they are really good. It was fun playing against Akolda (Manyang). Someone bigger than I am. It was tough. I matched up with him most of the time. We were fighting foul trouble
GopherHole: Do you like playing against other big guys since you don’t often face guy that are taller than you?
Alex Illikainen: I love it. I had to box him out.
GopherHole: What things have you been working on to improve yourself as a player?
Alex Illikainen: Ballhandling and shooting. Getting those free throws down and also pump fakes and getting my post moves.
GopherHole: Have you had a chance to go to any college games this year?
Alex Illikainen: I haven’t. We played at St. John’s and watched the St. John’s game after that and that is about it.