This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

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Alex Illikainen could be primed for another big recruitment leap

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: May 7, 2014 - 11:54 AM

In case you missed it, my story from yesterday's paper on Minnesota's schedule for next season and the balance Richard Pitino hopes to find.

If history is any influence, it could be a big summer for Alex Illikainen.

The power forward, who is ranked 84th nationally in the 2015 class, according to rivals.com, already has a notable list of interested programs knocking on his door. But tucked up in Grand Rapids, Illikainen probably loses some of the accidental exposure recruits closer to the metro benefit from when schools come to watch other athletes and become intrigued in other players along the way.

This AAU season, then, could act as a final coming out party for Illikainen, who will be competing in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball circuit (EYBL) -- with Howard Pulley -- for the first time. The summer before a recruit's senior season often proves to be a critical one. The 6-9 Minnesotan certainly has plenty of attention already. But the next few months could bring a second wind.

"It seems to happen, so hopefully it does," Illikainen said. "But I'm definitely comfortable with where I'm at. If no one else jumps in, I can definitely make a decision and be happy with it."

Currently, schools that have offered include Minnesota, California, Creighton, Indiana, Iowa State, Nebraska, Oregon and Providence -- which is the most recent program to dangle a scholarship -- among others. The forward hasn't set up any visits just yet (he's only officially visited Cal so far). 

Illikainen said he talks to the Minnesota staff on a daily basis, sometimes about the team, sometimes about the program's wishlist when it comes to facilities, sometimes about how he could fit into the current system -- a stretch-four, Joey King- like role -- sometimes just "as friends, everyday conversations."

Minnesota, of course, has the advantage of proximity. Illikainen has been paying attention to the program he grew up watching.

"He had a great year, finishing off strong," Illikainen said of Pitino. "He's doing great things. I love the way he plays and just the relationships between me and him and [assistant] coach [Ben] Johnson are great."

One of the aspects of his game he's focusing on this summer is ball handling, Illikainen said. The EYBL, with its talented cache of players, should help that, along with providing that extra boost in his recruitment.

"It's a huge change," Illikainen said of the EYBL circuit. "I love it though. I love the challenge. The guys that are good here, when you go there, it's even better. It's just teaching me what I can do, what I can't do."

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