Illikainen Set to See Iowa

With two open scholarships available, several players have scheduled official visits to Iowa this fall. First up is Grand Rapids, MN product Alex Illikainen, who arrives on campus this weekend. The power forward talked with us about the trip and the rest of his recruitment.

Alex Illikainen's life is about to become crazy. With official visits to colleges tipping off at the same time he's moving halfway across the country for high school, he's bracing for the grind.

"It's exciting making decision for your future and getting to pick where you want to go but that makes it stressful, too. There are a lot of hours put in by the (college) coaches and by me (during recruiting) just trying to get to the bottom of it. These officials are really going to help me figure out where I want to go. These officials are going to be huge," the Grand Rapids, MN power forward said.

Illikainen arrives in Iowa City Thursday night and will begin his Hawkeye official Friday afternoon, he said. Next week, he heads to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for his senior year. Then, he leaves for an Oregon official on Sept. 13.

"It's a lot harder, just getting rides to and from the airport (at Brewster). We have classes on some of the Saturdays. I'll be missing those. Even the time difference from the East Coast out to Oregon and then coming back and going to school, it's going to be tougher. But I'm definitely excited about going to Brewster so it's going to be all worth it," the 6-foot-8, 225-pound, stretch-four said.

Illikainen officially visited California last winter. The Bears changed coaches in the offseason and the parties no longer are connected.

NCAA rules allow five official visits so Illikainen will retain two trips after seeing Iowa and Oregon. He said he would likely use them.

"It's looking like it. I'm thinking of taking one to Wisconsin and then one to Minnesota," he said.

Iowa, Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin all have offered Illikainen scholarships.

"I'm going to try to sneak (the Minnesota and Wisconsin officials) in right away. It's going to get a little hectic but I've got to do it," he said.

The Hawkeyes showed early interest in Illikainen.

"I remember a couple of years ago they came up to an open gym and watched me play. Then the next couple of years, I didn't really see much from them," he said.

Iowa reconnected with the Howard Pulley product at July's Peach Jam in Georgia.

"They gave me a call and offered after that and said they were very interested. I love what the coaches have to say about their program and the way that they coach and the campus and all that stuff. I thought it was a school that I really wanted to pursue. Now I'm going on an official here in a couple of days and I'm really excited. I want to meet the guys and just see the atmosphere there," Illikainen said.

Head Coach Fran McCaffery and Assistant Andrew Francis are applying the Hawkeye double team to Illikainen, he said.

"I talk to both. It's pretty equal there. The coaches are awesome. Coach McCaffery, our conversations are great. He knows the game of basketball so well. Just his ideas and how he would use me and his coaching style is great. Coach Francis is a great guy to talk to and a great coach," Illikainen said.

Oregon offered Illikainen two years ago, he said. He visited the Eugene campus shortly after receiving it.

"The Ducks have been on me for a couple of years now. I talk to them pretty steadily. I've seen most of it (on the unofficial visit) but I just have to go up there and refresh my memory and meet the new guys and meet all the staff around the basketball program," he said.

Golden Gopher fans are encouraging Illikainen to stay home but he also hears from Iowa, Wisconsin and Oregon followers.

"A lot of people from Grand Rapids and the (Twin) Cities say it would be nice to be the hometown guy with the family and friends around and all that stuff but there are fans from other schools I hear from too," he said.

Illikainen is showing he's comfortable leaving the region with his enrollment at Brewster. Still, he thinks about playing college ball closer to home.

"That's not a huge deal but with the schools that I'm down to they're mostly in the Midwest except Oregon. If I did stay close to home, then my family would get to come see me more. So, that has a little bit to do with it. But I'm not really worried where I'm located," he said.

Finding a place he feels comfortable stands out as the most important element of his decision, Illikainen said. He'll be focusing on that during his official visits.

"I'm trying to learn the character of the players, coaches and everybody around the basketball program. I want to go to a place that I'm going to fit in and hang out with guys that are somewhat like me that I can relate to. I want to get a feel for the campus and the academics. But a lot of it will be the character of the players," he said.

Illikainen said he's embarking on the trips with an open mind and no leaders for his services.

"I'm just going to go on these visits, take in the experience and really think about how I would fit at each school. If it's the right fit, I'll pick that school," he said.

Illikainen said he's considering college majors in business or communications. Research is showing him that the schools at which he's looking have strong programs in those areas of study, he said.

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