WHEELING - Dr. Gregory Merrick had a vision of bringing elite high school basketball talent to the Ohio Valley some seven years ago.
As preparations are now in full swing for the seventh annual Cancer Research Classic, Merrick's vision has become even more than reality as he's built one of the nation's premier basketball events, while using basketball as a vehicle to promote men's health.
"I think our product has kept most people and teams coming back," Merrick said. "We've been able to get great teams to keep coming back."
WHITNEY YOUNG will be one of the teams on hand for the seventh annual Cancer Research Classic at Wheeling Jesuit University next month. The Dolphins are led by senior center Jahlil Okafor, who signed with Duke last month.
For the third straight year, the CRC, which will be held on Jan. 3 and 4 at Wheeling Jesuit University's McDonough Center, will be broadcast on ESPN's Family of Networks.
Included will be one game on Friday night and one on Saturday night. The CRC will be ESPN's maiden voyage into prep basketball on a Friday night.
"Having two nights on television really ups the ante for us," Merrick said. "It's very exciting and we think the games they've selected to televise will be great games."
The Friday game will be broadcast on ESPNU and will pit defending Ohio Division IV state champion Cleveland Villa Angela St. Joseph against Bishop Gorman from Nevada. It will tip off at 7 p.m.
Two of the top juniors in America will be involved in that game. VASJ features Carlton Bragg, who has offers from nearly every major school in America, including Ohio State, West Virginia, Kansas, Indiana, Connecticut and UCLA.
Bishop Gorman, meanwhile, boasts Stephen Zimmerman, who has a laundry list of offers from schools such as North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona and numerous others.
The Saturday game, which pits Prime Prep against Whitney Young, will be shown on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.
Both of these schools took part in last year's event. Prime Prep is led by SMU recruit Emmanuel Mudiay, who is one of the nation's top point guards. Whitney Young features most recruiting outlet's premier player in the Class of 2014 in Duke bound center Jahlil Okafor.
Prime Prep will actually tip things off on Friday when it meets Simeon out of Chicago in the first game of the weekend. It's scheduled to begin at 3:05 p.m.
Wheeling Park will meet Seton LaSalle, which is located in Pittsburgh, at 4:30 p.m. The final game of the Friday slate is defending ESPN national champion Montverde against St. Benedict's Prep from Newark, NJ.
Saturday's schedule begins at 12:05 p.m. with Wheeling Central taking on St. Joseph's Prep from Philadelphia.
The balance of the Saturday schedule includes: Neumann-Goretti vs. Simeon at 1:30 p.m.; D.C. Gonzaga against Bishop Gorman at 3 p.m.; Montverde vs. Wheeler (Georgia) at 4:30 p.m. and Prime Prep and Whitney Young close out the event.
"I think what keeps teams, people and ESPN coming back is the product," Merrick said. "We've got great teams and great players here. Plus, Jesuit is a great facility and the teams are treated well."
The CRC weekend actually gets under way on Thursday, Jan. 2 with the third annual banquet. Stan Van Gundy - the former Orlando Magic and Miami Heat head coach - will be the keynote speaker for the event, which will be held at Oglebay's Glessner Auditorium.
In its relatively short history, the CRC has seen six current NBA players and well over 150 players play at the Division I level.
"It's exciting to turn a game on television and see a guy playing that you saw play in the CRC," Merrick said. "It's exciting for the area fans to be able to say they had the opportunity to see these guys play in high school. It's great selling point to be able to see guys doing so well at the next level."
The CRC is sponsored by Wheeling Hospital, the Schiffler Cancer Center, the Urologic Research Institute and Wheeling Jesuit University.