The Gophers coaching staff has made Illikainen a top priority for the 2015 recruiting class.
Alex Illikainen, a 6-foot-8, 192-pound freshman from Grand Rapids, who received a scholarship offer in April from Minnesota, is considered the top player in the state in the Class of 2015. Illikainen helped lead Grand Rapids to the Class AAA state boy’s basketball tournament for the second straight year.
Illikainen shined as a member of the Cyclones AAU program that won four 15-and-under titles and finished 49-12.
GopherHole.com recemtly caught up with Illikainen to learn the latest on his recruitment and his summer play.
GopherHole: Your team made it to the championship game of Fab 48 in Las Vegas. How pleased were you with how things went this summer?
Alex Illikainen: It was awesome. We had a lot of success. We lost some tough games, but we always came back. If started out bad in a tournament, we would regroup and come back strong.
GopherHole: You were a little shorthanded in Vegas, due to injuries and were down to seven players. Does that make it even more meaningful?
Alex Illikainen: Yes. We already don’t have a ton of guys and when someone gets hurt, it hurts us a lot. We had to do what we had to do and stick it out. We try as hard as we can.
GopherHole: You picked up an offer from Oregon recently. When did you first start hearing from them?
Alex Illikainen: Right before I went to St. Louis, coach told me that they were interested and that he talked to them, so I called them and talked to them and they said that they were interested. They came and watched me in Vegas and that lead to an offer.
GopherHole: Have you thought about visiting some schools before high school starts?
Alex Illikainen: I have already visited the first five that offered (Minnesota, Iowa State, Nebraska, Northern Iowa and Creighton) and I really want to go to see Oregon. I really want to go to see Indiana and Wisconsin again. I would like to see some places.
GopherHole: I know that Indiana and Wisconsin are looking at you. What schools are you hearing besides them and the schools that have already offered a scholarship.
Alex Illikainen: I’ve gotten a couple of letters from UCLA.
GopherHole: When you were playing in July, did you notice a lot of coaches watching you or do you try not to look up?
Alex Illikainen: There was quite a few coaches there. It was great. My whole team is getting looks, so it is just awesome.
GopherHole: You lost your standout point guard and fellow big man on the Grand Rapids team. What are the expectations for the upcoming season?
Alex Illikainen: We are going to be strong. We are going to keep working hard. We’ve got quite while until the season starts, but I think that we are going to be really good, actually. We lost a couple of people, but we have people filling in and it is going to be good.
GopherHole: You have been to the state tournament the past two years. You made it to the first round in 2011 and made it past the first round last year before losing in the semifinals. Is that something that you have talked about getting even farther next season?
Alex Illikainen: Absolutely. First of all, we just want to have a good regular season and play hard and get through sections and if we get to state, that would be awesome and take it one game at a time.
GopherHole: I know that you can’t talk to the coaches a lot since you are still so young, but what are you hearing from Minnesota?
Alex Illikainen: We keep in touch a lot, Call them up and stuff like that. They just want me to keep on coming down and watching games. I hope to get down for a football game.