Alex Illikainen, a 2015 power forward from Grand Rapids, first started getting attention from Minnesota when former coach Tubby Smith held the reins, but Richard Pitino called the 6-9 big man a week after he got the job to extend the offer. Illikainen currently has offers from seven schools: Creighton, Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa and Oregon. He is ranked 71st nationally according to Rivals.
Alex, tell me a little about your first impressions of Pitino and the staff. I went down there two weeks after he got the job and we had a meeting with all the coaches. I really liked them. They kind of told me about how they’re going to play an uptempo game and I kind of feel like I fit into that. I just can’t wait to see the first couple games and what he’s done with the team and does with the program … I like to run, uptempo game -- that’s kind of my thing. I think I fit in in that kind of environment – going fast.
Were you very close with Tubby and the old staff? Did Smith getting fired take you by surprise at all? I had a great relationship with them and all the coaches on the old staff. When they got released, that was a big hit, I definitely had a good relationship with them. I was surprised, yeah. But now that I’ve gotten to know the new staff a little, I’m looking forward to building a relationship with them, they’re good guys and really good coaches. I think it worked out for Tubby and his staff over at Texas Tech and I think they like it so – it’s all good now.
Having new coaches is totally different. Besides the school part, everything is totally different -- how they play, all that kind of stuff. I’ve got to get down there and see them play and watch them coach and see what’s different.
Think you’ll make it to a few Gopher games? That’s the easiest place for me to get to, so I definitely want to make it to a couple of games.
Who is going after you the hardest right now? Oregon, Cal, Indiana, Minnesota and Creighton.
Cal and Indiana haven’t offered you yet, have they? No.
Who are the newest schools to step in? Wisconsin, Colorado, Kansas and then there’s plenty others but just off the top of my head.
Are you thinking about any unofficials soon? I don’t know where yet this fall, but I’m going to do a couple and hopefully a few games in the winter.
What aspect of your game are you working on the most? My jumpshot – threes and ball handling, just that outsider perimeter play that I’ve been working on a lot … I feel pretty good – everything I’m working on is coming along pretty good – my outside game and I’m kind of putting it all together, so it’s coming along pretty good.