Wisconsin Basketball: Illikainen leaves program

Wisconsin Basketball’s frontcourt just got a little thinner.

In a move that is not exactly shocking, senior forward Alex Illikainen has opted to step away from the program. However, according to UW officials, he will stay enrolled in classes at Wisconsin.

In response to Illikainen’s decision, Greg Gard issued the following statement yesterday:

We wish Alex luck as he continues to pursue earning his degree from the University of Wisconsin in May. We also want to thank him for his efforts during his three-plus years with our program.

Illikainen’s departure marks the end of what has been a very disappointing career in Madison.

A member of the final recruiting class of the Bo Ryan era, expectations were high when he joined the program in 2015. Illikainen was a highly-regarded prospect coming out of powerhouse Brewster Academy in Connecticut, ranking as a borderline 4-star and the No. 147 overall player in his class according to the 247Sports composite. Wisconsin beat out several other high-profile programs for the Grand Rapids, Minnesota native’s signature, including California, Iowa, Creighton, Indiana, Iowa State, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Providence, and Texas Tech.

Also: Five storylines for Wisconsin's 2018-19 season

Illikainen’s career started off on decent footing during his freshman season, when he averaged what would be career highs in minutes in points, rebounds, field goal percentage, and minutes as a reserve on a team that reached the Sweet 16. Unfortunately, everything went downhill from there, and over the next couple of seasons, he found himself out of Greg Gard’s rotation for the most part.

His final career statistics of 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per game over his 85 appearances tell you all you need to know about Illikainen’s struggles to make an impact as a Badger.

Illikainen is the second member of Wisconsin’s five-player 2015 recruiting class to leave the program, joining Andy Van Vliet, who has since transferred to William and Mary. As a whole, that group has not turned out as Badgers fans had hoped, though Khalil Iverson has established himself as a starter and Brevin Pritzl has become a reliable contributor off the bench and could be poised for a breakout campaign this season. That being said, in addition to striking out on Van Vliet and Illikainen, it’s fair to say that Charlie Thomas’s career has not gone well, either.

Even considering how poorly the last few years have gone for him, I had been holding out hope that Illikainen would finally take a step forward and serve as a reliable frontcourt option off the bench this season. The Badgers are very thin there behind Nathan Reuvers and Ethan Happ, with Thomas being the only other true post option available at this point.

Next: Breaking down every game on Wisconsin's 2018-19 schedule

Since Illikainen did not appear in Wisconsin’s win in the season opener against Coppin State last week, he would be free to pursue opportunities as a graduate transfer once he receives his degree in May. That being said, it is unclear at the moment if he intends to continue playing college basketball.

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com

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