Paint ball: Lake Zurich’s Anton Strelnikov making a name for himself in the post

The “old school” big man becomes rarer each year. In a sport in which athleticism reigns supreme, stretch fours and ultra-athletic fives have started to take over.

Anton Strelnikov, an incoming senior at Lake Zurich, embraces battling in the paint.

“What I love is just getting down there, getting physical with other people, and getting tough shots up,” Strelnikov said.

Strelnikov’s passion for the game started at an early age. Although he tried other sports, he instantly fell in love with basketball and kept coming back to the court.

Strelnikov uses a variety of post moves to be one of the top paint scorers in Illinois. The big man played down low in his youth, and his years of experience shine on the floor.

“It’s like muscle memory at this point,” Strelnikov said.

His baseline spin mirrors that of two-time Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year, Zach Edey. Strelnikov’s go-to is the drop step middle hook, but he continues to work on his fadeaway jumper to prepare for taller defenders at the next level.

“We call him Tony Jokic for a reason,” said Lake Zurich coach Terry Coughlin.

Strelnikov showed off his facilitating ability at the Ridgewood Live Event basketball shootout at Ridgewood High School in Norridge last weekend.

Opponents double- or triple-teamed Strelnikov each time he touched the ball in the paint. The big man showed poise and control. His ability to find open teammates and get to his spot made the Bears offense tough to stop.

  Lake Zurich’s Anton Strelnikov passes on a fast break during the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball shootout on Friday, June 21, 2024 in Riverside. Joe Lewnard/

Strelnikov dominated offensively, scoring 16, 22, 23 and 26 points, respectively, and his Bears went 2-2 on the weekend.

However, at 6-foot-8, Strelnikov understands the importance of developing all parts of his game for the next level.

Strelnikov’s first offer, from Western Michigan, felt “surreal.” He received his second offer from Toledo in late June and will be visiting this month.

“As an undersized big, I didn’t really know how my height would play into these coaches’ recruiting,” Strelnikov said. “I always believed that I could go (Division I), but I always thought since I was a little shorter than the rest it might be a little harder.”

When Strelnikov first met Coughlin after reaching varsity as a sophomore, he described himself as slow and unable to run. Now Strelnikov’s conditioning cannot go unnoticed.

“Later in the stretch when it’s a close game I can still have good legs, be fresh and go up strong and not miss any shots,” Strelnikov said.

Strelnikov averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks a game while shooting 65% from the floor and 72% from the free-throw line last year in his junior season.

“Every coach in the country knows Anton can score,” Coughlin said. “Defending and rebounding was kind of the next step in his game from last year to this year, and I think he showed it this week.”

Strelnikov’s tenacity on both the defensive end and on the glass provides younger teammates with an example to look up to.

  Lake Zurich’s Anton Strelnikov shoots during a game against Bradley during the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball shootout on Friday, June 21, 2024 in Riverside. Joe Lewnard/

Lake Zurich won their 10th regional championship last season. However, the Bears lost seven graduating seniors.

Strelnikov declared one of his goals as a leader on the team next season.

“Make sure we’re all like a big family so we can play well on the court,” Strelnikov said.

Strelnikov’s motor and drive to improve helped him become one of the premier paint scorers in Illinois and get on the radars of college coaches.

With just one season remaining at Lake Zurich, Strelnikov hopes to motivate his teammates to play at their highest level.

“When the best player is a competitor all the time, that means nobody else can let down and not compete,” Coughlin said.

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