The knock on a stationary stretch big man tends to be obvious: Can this guy compete against athletes inside, and whom does he defend? Alex Illikainen certainly has had those criticisms hurled in his direction, but despite a slow start at NBPA camp he has picked up his play and carved a successful niche for himself at the country's most loaded event.
"I struggled shooting the first couple of days just trying to get into it, but the past couple games I've shot it better," Illikainen said.
He certainly assessed his own play accurately. Illikainen possesses a smooth jump shot from the three-point stripe and projects as a strong fit for a program that likes to locate its big men on the perimeter. Though not an explosive athlete, he has a solid frame and will be able to compensate somewhat for a quickness deficit thanks to his strength.
High-major schools have taken notice and clearly view him as a potential defense-stretcher at the next level.
"My latest offers are from Providence and Boston College," Illikainen said. "I also have offers from Minnesota, Nebraska, Creighton, Oregon, Cal (California), Texas Tech, Vanderbilt and Indiana. I'm also talking to the new staff at Oregon State."
A native of Minnesota, Illikainen has the option to play close to home. That said, he comes from a family of athletes who have sought an independent path.
"Both of my sisters went to college for hockey, one to Dartmouth and the other to Providence," he said. "I would love to stay in-state and play near my family, but I can't be afraid to step out (of state) if that's the best option."
He added that he intends to cut his list after the summer and set up official visits for the fall.