The schedule for the Cancer Research Classic basketball extravaganza was announced last month by Dr. Gregory Merrick.
The full weekend of events is now set after Merrick confirmed Friday morning that long-time NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy had accepted the invitation to serve as the keynote speaker at the CRC Tipoff Banquet, which will be held on Thursday, Jan. 2 at Oglebay Park's Wilson Lodge.
"I think it's going to be huge," Merrick said. "People, who've heard Coach Van Gundy speak, tell me he's unbelievable. He's a great speaker, funny, has a great sense of humor and he's very entertaining."
Van Gundy's spent his entire life around the game of basketball. He began his coaching career in 1981 and steadily worked his way up the ladder. He was the head coach at the University of Wisconsin for one season before landing his first NBA post as an assistant with the Miami Heat.
He ascended to the role of Heat head coach in 2003 and held the job for two years before team executive Pat Riley replaced Van Gundy with himself. In 2007, Van Gundy got back onto the NBA bench, accepting the job as Orlando Magic head coach, which he held until 2012.
"Once Stan found out what we're doing, the quality of teams we're bringing in and who the speakers were before him, he became very excited," Merrick said. "The Van Gundy's are basketball junkies, so anytime a guy like Stan Van Gundy can do a little more basketball, he's ready to jump in."
This is the third annual banquet to get things to set the table for the CRC, which will be held on Jan. 3 and 4 at Wheeling Jesuit University's McDonough Center.
It's the first time, however, that the speaker has really no ties for the immediate area. Clark Kellogg, who is an Ohio State legend, was the speaker at the inaugural banquet and Yorkville native Dino Gaudio, who was the head coach at Wake Forest and is now an analyst on ESPN, spoke last year.
"I hope it plays out well," Merrick said. "Obviously, Coach Van Gundy has a huge basketball background and I am sure he'll be able to tell some marvelous stories about Shaquille O'Neal, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard and others."
Merrick would like for the speaker to be somewhat more related to the Ohio Valley, but he also realizes that there aren't as many available options as there would be for some other sports.
"There are some guys out there we'd love to bring in, but their hands are tied somewhat because they're involved in their respective seasons because a lot of the people are still involved," Merrick said. "I am trying to find (speakers) who the general public and basketball fans would recognize. I think we'll have another nice turnout."
The two local teams competing in this year's event - Wheeling Park and Wheeling Central - will both have their entire squads at the dinner once again in January.
"I think it's nice to bring the kids because it's a great chance for them to represent their schools in a formal setting, be around adults, learn to shake hands and learn to answer questions," Merrick said.
The CRC will feature eight games this year, but Merrick is still thinking of adding a ninth game, but the decision won't be finalized until early in the fall.
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