Wisconsin basketball is known for unearthing hidden gems on the recruiting trail and either locking them up early or getting poached when more blue-blooded programs realize what a talent Bo Ryan and Co. have identified. In the case of Alex Illikainen, however, the Badgers might be close to doing the opposite.
Illikainen -- thought to be a strong Gopher lean for quite awhile -- has been a known commodity since his freshman season, averaging more than 26 points per game over the last two seasons for Grand Rapids (Minn.) High School. But he wasn't enthralled enough with the home-state school to make a hasty decision. Wisconsin offered the 6'9 forward just over three weeks ago and jumped right to the forefront of his recruitment.
Was Illikainen waiting for a Badger offer all along? Or did other factors force his hand in naming Iowa and Wisconsin his two finalists? Either way, Badger fans should have a good feeling about adding another talented big man from our neighbors to the west. One of Adam Zagoria's sources considers Wisconsin the favorite to land Illikainen. The Badgers recently took the lead in Crystal Ball projections, too (though Iowa received the latest pick).
Here's a quick rundown of events in Illikainen's recruitment over the last four weeks:
Aug. 21 - Offered by Wisconsin
Aug. 30 - Official visit to Iowa
Sept. 2 - Cuts list to 4 schools: Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Wisconsin
Sept. 3 - Sets official visit to Wisconsin for Sept. 19
Sept. 4 - Unofficial visit to Minnesota
~Sept. 6 - Tentative official visit to Oregon rescheduled
Sept. 8 - Jarvis Johnson informs Minnesota he will commit
Sept. 9 - Visited by Iowa and Wisconsin at Brewster Academy
Alex Illikainen will host Iowa and Wisconsin today, then Minnesota/Oregon check in tomorrow at Brewster Academy— Brian Snow (@BSnowScout) September 9, 2014
Sept. 10 - Visited by Minnesota and Oregon at Brewster Academy
Sept. 11 - Oregon takes commitment from PF Trevor Manuel; Illikainen cancels Sept. 13 official visit to Oregon
Quick FYI, Alex Illikainen did cancel his visit to Oregon yesterday after the Trevor Manuel commitment.— Ryan James (@RyanJamesMN) September 12, 2014
Sept. 12 - Johnson commits to Minnesota, securing it's last open scholarship* for 2015; Illikainen trims list to Iowa and Wisconsin
*Note: Minnesota will continue to recruit Illikainen to some degree, though it is currently holding a scholarship for Canadian PF Gaston Diedhiou. Diedhou, a 2014 recruit, failed to gain clearance from Minnesota's admissions office this semester, but could possibly join the team for the second semester.
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Shooting guard Brevin Pritzl -- the Badgers' first commit for 2015 -- is not much of a rah-rah guy and admitted in previous interviews that he wasn't the type to do a lot of recruiting. But even he got into the act last Saturday night, encouraging Illikainen to run for the border.
It's easy to see why Pritzl might so so without any prodding. He is probably nothing more than lonely for company. Pritzl seems to be a UW fan just like the rest of us, getting a little restless about who is going to play alongside him in his recruiting class.
Illikainen has not set a date for his decision, but most people are eyeing up next weekend's visit to Madison with keen interest. The Minnesota native had nice things to say ($) about Iowa last month after visiting and also explained the characteristics he is looking for in a college:
"One of the biggest things is the character of the guys and the staff," Illikainen said. "I like being around great guys that I can spend a lot of time with. Coaches that are going to treat me right and push me to get better."
I think UW's program fits right in with those goals for the most part.
Offering a top prospect late in the process did not work out for Wisconsin in the case of Onalaska's Matt Thomas in 2013, but beyond that there isn't much evidence to suggest Bo Ryan cannot pull it off because he really has not tried that often. Illikainen's case could turn out to be evidence that he can do it.
The Minnesota native decided to spend his senior season at Brewster Academy out east in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, but Illikainen has been playing AAU ball for a Howard Pulley program that Wisconsin has a great relationship with, going back to Jared Berggren, Jordan Taylor, and Kammron Taylor.
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