Alex Illikainen is only the second freshman that Tubby Smith has offered a scholarship to since he has been at Minnesota.
Alex Illikainen, a 6-foot-8, 192-pound freshman from Grand Rapids, received a scholarship offer this past weekend from Minnesota, his fourth recent offer. Illikainen, who is considered the top player in the state in the Class of 2015, helped lead Grand Rapids to the Class AAA state boy’s basketball tournament for the second straight year.
Illikainen shined this past weekend at the Minnesota Comets as he averaged 19.5 points per game as the Cyclones AAU program won the 15-and-under title.
GopherHole.com caught up with Illikainen to learn the latest on his recruitment and Minnesota offer.
GopherHole: You received an offer from Minnesota. How did you get the news?
Alex Illikainen: I went on an unofficial and meet the staff and the team. It was great. It was fun and they offered. It was a great time and experience.
GopherHole: Had the visit been planned for awhile?
Alex Illikainen: No. They just knew that we were coming down for this tournament.
GopherHole: How did you feel about the offer?
Alex Illikainen: I was very excited. It means a lot as a ninth grade. They just said to keep working hard and improving and hopefully in a couple of years, I’ll make my decision about where to play college basketball.
GopherHole: You have four offers right now from Minnesota, Nebraska, Northern Iowa and Creighton. That has to make you feel very proud getting that many offers this early.
Alex Illikainen: Yes, it is great. I didn’t know coming into this year, what was going to happen. I just worked hard and it has turned out good.
GopherHole: Did you a favorite team growing up that you watched on TV?
Alex Illikainen: Not really. I don’t have a favorite team.
GopherHole: What would it mean to play for the homestate school?
Alex Illikainen: It would mean a lot. Family, of course. Being around everyone. Minnesota. It would be great. Having that coaching staff there is great. Everything is great there.
GopherHole: Would it be nice to have your parents to watch you since your sister are going to be playing hockey so far away? (His oldest sister, Morgan, is a freshman at Dartmouth and Molly Illikainen signed with Providence)
Alex Illikainen: It would be nice for them. Three hours away, which isn’t very far. They could come to every game. It would be perfect.
GopherHole: Do people tease you about not playing hockey since your dad played at UMD and your two sisters play?
Alex Illikainen: They did until it turns that I was 6-8. I don’t think that I could do very good on skates.
GopherHole: What things have you been really working on to continue to improve yourself as a player?
Alex Illikainen: I like to post up, but now I want to take my game to the outside. Dribble the ball a little bit and get the shots in. Just play a little outside.
GopherHole: How this group of AAU teammates. You had great success last year. Do you think that helps in terms of team chemistry and being comfortable with each other?
Alex Illikainen: Yes and we have a couple of new players, too. We are just starting to figure each other out. We are starting to play as a team a little bit more. In the first couple of games, we just had to have that bond together and know what each other was doing and where they are and it will turn out good.
GopherHole: I know that it is early being only a freshman, but have you even thought about when you would like to try to decide on a school or is that pretty far away.
Alex Illikainen: It is far away. I am just focusing on the summer and doing good.
GopherHole: Your high school team made it to the state tournament for the second straight year, but you lose guard Austin Pohlen and fellow big man Mike Spoden What are the expectations for next year?
Alex Illikainen: Definitely, the highest goal is to make it back to the state tournament. I think that we will have the team to do it. We lose Austin and some other seniors that are great, but I think that we can rebuild. It just takes practice and we will be able to get down there.
GopherHole: Is that a little bit of a motivation since you made it to the state tournament the first year and lost in the first round and this past year, you made it to the second round? Is that something you have talked about getting even farther next year?
Alex Illikainen: Yes. It was definitely a heartbreaker, losing in the second round, but third place is still a huge game and we would like to make it past the second round.