'Don't think it can get much better'

We've got the first word from official visitor Alex Illikainen and his father Darin as they board a plane to head back to Minnesota. What was it like to hit the town with the Bears after the big win? What got the two thinking? We've got all that and more.

Just a matter of hours after they left the California campus on Sunday, Darin and Alex Illikainen were still buzzing about the night that was on Saturday, when the Golden Bears knocked off No. 1 Arizona as the crowning moment of Alex's official visit.

"Oh, boy, it was an awesome trip," said Darin – Alex's father. "We got into such great detail on this tour here. We got a tour of the city, and the campus, as well, and it was a great, great area to come to college, and the basketball program itself, the game last night was electrifying. Knocking off the No. 1 team in the country, to come as a recruit and as a recruit parent, you couldn't have had a better opportunity to show up. Them knocking off No. 1, it was a great environment, and it's nice to see the Cal community support the team. Overall, fresh off of leaving the campus an hour or two ago, it was just a great, great trip to see what it's all about."

From Alex's perspective, it couldn't have gone much better – both on the court and off.

"It was amazing," said the 2015 four-star. "It was a close game the whole game, and everybody in the arena was just pumped and excited and they kept it close the whole game. That last play, it just got crazy in there."

Like unofficial visitor Chance Comanche, Illikainen got to ride the high of the win along with the team, as he went out with the Bears for a little social victory lap around campus.

"We got to hang out with the guys, talk to them a lot, and they had a lot of good things to say about Cal, Berkeley and everything about it," Illikainen said. "It was nice getting to talk to them and get their feelings and get their perspective about things."

For Illikainen, the weekend couldn't have gone much better than beating the No. 1 team in the nation and then getting to hit the town with the guys who did the beating.

"I don't think it can get much better than that," he laughed. "That was just awesome. It's hard to describe. Just knocking off the No. 1, there are just so many good things."

It wasn't just about the win, though, for the pair from Grand Rapids, Minn. It was about how Cal carried itself in victory, and leading into the clash at Haas Pavilion.

"The impressive thing was the coaching staff and the character of the players, from a parent perspective," Darin said. "We got an opportunity to meet all of them and talk to them and Alex, as much as he wants to be on a competitive team, wants to be on a team that's going to win night in and night out, wants to go to a team with that character, a group of good people. That was kind of a thing that stood out, a thing that we looked for, coming out here, and it definitely exceeded our expectations, with a genuine coaching staff and great character players."

Alex got to see up close exactly what he could turn into under head coach Mike Montgomery's tutelage, as he watched Richard Solomon and David Kravish combine for 26 points and 18 rebounds against the Wildcats.

"Just watching the Pac-12 and Cal play on TV back at home, you get to see a little bit of it, but when you're here, he showed me a couple films and showed me really how he'd use me," said the 6-foot-8, 215-pound Illikainen. "It was great getting to talk with him and seeing how he does things."

Illikainen didn't come out to California with any expectations other than the weather (he said of the rain on his way out, "It sounded like you guys needed it.") , but the weekend was far and away more than he could have hoped for.

"Never really being out in California, I didn't know what to expect," he said. "But, it definitely exceeded my expectations. It was a great visit, I got to see a lot of new things. San Francisco was awesome, Berkeley was awesome. It's just a great place out here … There were just so many great things about it, just the whole city and all the things to do and all the people, they have great support, and then just walking around campus, you see how everyone has school spirit and everyone just loves Cal. It's just great. It's a whole, big community, and everyone loves Cal."

Illikainen got the most well-rounded experience one could have on an official visit, not only seeing a bumping social scene and an historic win, but also having his eyes opened to the academic side of his potential future home, as well.

"What got me thinking was what they told me about the academic part," he said. "It can be pretty challenging, but they said it's very doable. The school part got me thinking, and I saw that I can do it. I can make it through."

Illikainen currently has a GPA around 3.4 to 3.5, he said, though he has no idea what he wants to major in.

"I haven't really thought that through," he chuckled.

As for Cal? Well, there's certainly a lot to think about, now.

BearTerritory.net Top Stories