WHEELING - The Cancer Research Classic has become one of the nation's premier high school basketball showcases.
And there's no chance that director Dr. Gregory Merrick plans on slowing down now.
Merrick announced the schedule for the seventh annual event, which will be held on Jan. 3-4 at Wheeling Jesuit University's McDonough Center, during a press conference Thursday afternoon at Wheeling Hospital.
"I really think this will be the best CRC to date and it's going to be a great weekend," Merrick said. "
The CRC will feature arguably its best collection of teams and individual talent as eight games are on tap for the two days.
"We may add a ninth game," Merrick said. "That will be decided over the next month or so."
As has been the case each year, the event attracts some of the premier teams in the nation, but Merrick also features local squads - Wheeling Park and Wheeling Central.
Michael Jebbia's Patriots will play on Friday for the first time in their history of taking part. They'll meet up with Pittsburgh-based Seton LaSalle, which is coming off a 23-4 campaign and returns all five of its starters.
"I think our Friday night schedule is going to be a killer night (of basketball)," Merrick said. "I think the Park and Seton LaSalle game will be evenly matched and should come down to the end."
Montverde, which won the ESPN-driven national championship tournament in April, will take on St. Benedicts Prep, who it beat in that title game. Montverde features Ohio State commit D'Angelo Russell, a shooting guard.
"Montverde will be top three in the pre-season and St. Benedict's will be top five," Merrick said.
On top of Russell, Montverde also features junior Bobby Simmons, who Merrick has heard referenced as "the best junior in the world."
"There should be some bloodshed in this game," Merrick said.
Merrick dipped back into the talent-rich state of Ohio to pluck Cleveland Villa Angela St. Joseph. The reigning Division IV state champion, which features highly regarded junior-to-be Carlton Bragg, will tangle with Prime Prep, which knocked off Huntington Prep in the CRC this past season.
"Prime Prep was my favorite team from last year," Merrick said. "They played as good a defense as any high school team I've seen. They'll be top three next season."
Prime Prep is led by senior point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.
On Saturday, and game times are still yet to be determined, the Maroon Knights of Coach Mel Stephens will tangle with Philadelphia's St. Joseph's Prep, which is coached by prep hoop legend Speedy Morris.
The premier game on Saturday's lineup pits Whitney Young from Chicago against Prime Prep. Whitney Young is led by senior Jahlil Okafor, who has Ohio State in his top eight of possible destinations.
"This will be the third year that Jahlil will be here and he's what you want all athletes to be," Merrick said. "He's unbelievably well spoken, he's a great student, very humble and he's going to be a very, very rich man in a few years because he can play."
Montverde will also play a second game. It will meet Wheeler, which is located in Marietta, Ga. It features three of the top 25 juniors in America, including Daniel Giddens.
Bishop Gorman, which is based in Las Vegas, will meet D.C. Gonzaga, which is undefeated in the CRC.
"Bishop Gorman has seven footer Stephen Zimmerman, who is top three in the junior class," Merrick said. "On paper, you'd have to go with Bishop Gorman."
Simeon, which lost six Division I players from last season, including Duke signee Jabari Parker, will meet annual entrant Nueman Goretti.
"Simeon is reloading and will be a top 20 team and Neuman Goretti should be a top 25 team," Merrick said.
While it's not been finalized what games, Merrick is confident that ESPN will be broadcasting once again.
Merrick also announced that there will once again be a teaching seminar for skill development that can be utilized for all sports. Also, he's also working on hosting a exposure and skill development camp for higher level high school players.
The annual CRC Coaching Clinic will not be held this fall.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org