So the Badgers finally added another piece of the 2015 recruiting class puzzle on Sunday. Power forward Alex Illikainen from Grand Rapids, MN chose UW over Iowa after his official visit to Madison this past weekend. Illikainen. who transferred to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for his senior season, told Bo Ryan of his choice after taking in the Badgers football win over Bowling Green on Saturday. His high school coach helped him announce via Twitter:
Alex Illikainen becomes the 7th member of Brewster Class of '15 to commit to high major program. pic.twitter.com/qfGzXdek8m— Jason Smith (@BrewsterHoops) September 21, 2014
I like that Illikainen doesn't look too excited. He can clearly handle the big moment and not get flustered. This will serve him well on the road against Michigan State eventually. You can't get this kind of analysis anywhere else people!
What do we know about Illikainen? Well, we know he's a 6-9 stretch four that weighs 215 pounds. We also know that he has a soft shooting touch that Bo prefers his big men to have. Lastly, we know that his name is tough to spell, what with all the "i's" and "l's." Let's take a look at a quick highlight video from his Howard Pulley (MN) Nike Elite days:
Starting off your mixtape with a series of dunks, having a rap song that uses gun shot and bullet casings hitting the ground sound effects, and ending with free throw makes is a quick way to the top of my list, Alex. It is clear from the video that Illikainen has the desired inside/outside game to succeed in the Wisconsin swing offense. His jumper doesn't have a hitch in it, like some big guys that insist on shooting threes, and his post game is more polished than the average B1G freshman. If anything, his transfer to Brewster Academy will provide him with ample opportunities to play against D-1 talent. Last year, Brewster sent nine kids to D-1 schools, which included Georgetown, Kansas, Virginia, UCLA, Memphis, Louisville, and San Diego State. Phil Mitten over at Bucky's 5th Quarter notes that six Brewster alums were invited to the 2014 NBA Combine.
Illikainen is also a big get for Ryan and Co. due to their perceived (real?) shortcomings on the recruiting trail. The Badgers have never been known as a program that gets four and five star talent. They tend to fly under the radar and grab guys that your average Horizon League team is looking at, let them redshirt a year, sit on the bench for another two learning, and then contribute major minutes to a top-4 team in the Big Ten. It's a tried and true formula, but hear me out on this one. What if they did that...but with more talented players? The Badgers are coming off of a wonderful Final Four run last year and their recruiting has, predictably, been kicked up a notch.
Wisconsin already has four star shooting guard Brevin Pritzl in the fold for 2015 and adding another four star recruit is almost unheard of for the Badgers. I went back until 2010 (the last year a player on the current roster was recruited) to see what the 247 star rankings were for all Wisconsin players. They've had three players rated four stars or higher since 2010: Sam Dekker (woo go Sam Dekker!) in 2012, Bronson Koenig (woo go Bronson Koenig!) in 2013, and Jarrod Uthoff (boo go to Iowa Jarrod Uthoff) in 2011. The two kids still on the team were the best players from Wisconsin in their respective years. The Badgers have, almost never, been able to go out of state and snag a four star or better prospect. That is why Alex Illikainen is important. Sure he's only from neighboring Minnesota, but he's playing his senior year at am east coast prep powerhouse, and that shows Wisconsin has a little juice nationally.
The Badgers currently have the 26th best class in the nation according to 247 Sports, and with three more scholarships available, they could end up with a class in the top-15. Evan Flood also notes that Illikainen plays for a Nike sponsored AAU team and Wisconsin is an Adidas school, and apparently these sort of West Side Story romances happen very rarely. That is something I had never once thought about. Shoe companies, man. They control everything.
Illikainen should pair well with Prizl on the court as a pick and roll partner. He'll be able to draw defenders away from the basket due to his outside shooting and will also (*knocks on wood*) wreak havoc on defenses with Nigel Hayes and their comparable mid-range games. If the Badgers end up signing five star center Diamond Stone (Dominican High School, Milwaukee, WI), Illikainen will have a big body down low to occupy defenders while he slashes to the hoop for thunder dunks. NO YOU'RE GETTING CARRIED AWAY!
Even with a large and talented senior class graduating after this season (and the expected departure of junior Dekker), Wisconsin still has some quality at the forward positions. Hayes has already established himself, Vitto Brown showed glimpses of talent last year, and the coaches are high on Ethan Happ. Illikainen won't have to carry a large scoring burden early in his Wisconsin career, but he will be more than capable of stepping in as a freshman and contributing right away.
This is a strange new world we live in where Bo Ryan plays freshmen and recruits top talent from all over the country. I, for one, welcome our new midwest recruiting overlord.