The Cancer Research Classic reached new heights in 2012.
Regardless if you're talking matchups, individual players, the addition of the tipoff banquet, live television or attendance, this past January's event was exactly what Dr. Gregory Merrick had in mind when he began the event some five years ago.
As planning for the 2013 event picks up steam, don't think for a minute that Merrick is about to rest on the success of last year.
"We've got our lineup (set), and I think we'll have eight of the top 25 teams in the country," Merrick said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon at Wheeling Hospital.
The Cancer Research Classic, which is nationally recognized and featured some 65 Division I players in last year's event, is set for Friday, Jan. 4 and Saturday, Jan. 5 at Wheeling Jesuit University's McDonough Center.
As of right now, there are two games scheduled for Friday and then six slated for Saturday.
For the first time in the event's history, all three high schools in the city of Wheeling will take part. Wheeling Central and Wheeling Park have been perennial entrants, but Linsly is slated to play on Friday in next year's event.
"We'll, by far, be the best one-day event in the country," Merrick said. "I think this is a remarkable opportunity for our entire area to showcase who we are and what we do."
The Friday matchups aren't set yet because Merrick is waiting to see if there's any player movement between Pittsburgh-based schools Propel Charter and Seton-Lasalle. He did note that Linsly and Central won't play each other.
"I doubt it, but there's a small possibility a third game could be added to the Friday lineup," Merrick said. "If there is one added, it will be a higher profile game."
Merrick listed the Saturday matchups as tentative and said, "I expect they will change."
One of the major reasons for change is television, which if it returns, could dictate games it wants to see. Another reason is that the nationally known teams travel to events all winter and cross paths with the same teams and dislike playing each other multiple times.
Highlighting the teams is Simeon from Chicago, which Merrick believes could be the top ranked team in the nation when the season begins. Simeon is led by Jabari Parker, who recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and is the top ranked player in the country.
Simeon will meet Gonzaga of Washington D.C. New to the field are Grace Prep from Arlington, Texas; Salesian, which is located near San Francisco; Lower Merion, which is Kobe Bryant's alma mater in Philadelphia.
The balance of the squads scheduled to take part are: St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, NJ); DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.); Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia); Whitney Young (Chicago); St. Raymond (Bronx) and St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia), which is scheduled to take on Park.
"This is a great event with teams from the East Coast with great reputations and then great teams from the West Coast," said Wheeling Jesuit head basketball coach and athletic director Danny Sancomb. "I think the best thing about this tournament, over the years, has been the fact that the games have been competitive and highly entertaining for the fans."
Merrick is under the impression that ESPN will once again return, but nothing will be finalized until the fall when the sports media giant reveals its prep basketball schedule in early October.
"I know ESPN was ecstatic with the crowds, the enthusiasm and the quality of play," Merrick said. "During the first (televised) game, ESPN called in and said, 'this is unbelievable. The crowd, the atmosphere, the level of play makes it feel like a Big 10 game.' We surely hope to out-do that this year. If ESPN isn't here again, I will honestly be shocked and highly disappointed."
Cancer Research Classic weekend will actually get under way on Thursday, Jan. 3 with the dinner at Oglebay Resort in Glessner Auditorium at Oglebay Park. Former Ohio State Buckeye and current CBS Sports college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg was the keynote speaker.
Merrick wasn't ready to announce the speaker just yet, but said, "we have a couple of guys pending right now, so we'll probably make an announcement in the early fall as to who the speaker will be that evening, but it will be another prominent athletic figure."
ALONG WITH the CRC lineup, Merrick also formally announced the lineup of speakers for the Cancer Research Classic Basketball Coaches Clinic.
The clinic will be held on Sunday, Sept. 30 at Wheeling Jesuit. The top speaker is Bob Hurley Sr., who is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The balance of the lineup is Jerome Lane (Penn), Dan Leibovitz (Penn), Andy Toole (Robert Morris), Matt Langel (Colgate) and Sancomb.
"By far, this will be the best basketball clinic we've ever put on," Merrick said. "That's very important for me to emphasize because we've had significantly bigger names at some past clinics. However, every year, we've had one or two bad talks, but this year there will not be a bad talk. Fundamentally, this is the strongest clinic I've ever seen."
The cost is $75 for one coach, but there are discounted rates when staffs bring multiple coaches.
Staskey can be reached at email@example.com