WHEELING - The sixth annual Cancer Research Classic is still a little more than three weeks away.
But, the preparations are kicking into full steam for CRC Director Dr. Gregory Merrick and his staff as they brace for what Merrick believes to be the "best" event in its modest history.
"We're really excited," Merrick said. "On paper, this event is significantly better than any other event we've had. I know I seem to say that every year, but it's been true."
The event is certainly the biggest in the history as nine games are scheduled for Jan. 4 and 5 at Wheeling Jesuit's McDonough Center.
The CRC continued its trend of putting together one of the top prep basketball events in the nation as seven of the top 20, including the top 3, teams in the latest ESPN.com rankings are scheduled to appear in Wheeling next month.
Six of the ranked teams will go head-to-head on Saturday, including the top teams Simeon, from Chicago, and Montverde, Fl. will clash at 6 p.m. in a game that is being billed by some as the 'high school basketball game of the year.'
"Montverde has possibily three potential lottery picks," Merrick said.
That game will be broadcast live on ESPN-2. The final game of the weekend - Gonzaga from Washington D.C. and Salesian from near San Francisco - will be shown on ESPN-U.
It's the second straight season that ESPN has brought its Geico High School Basketball Showcase to the Ohio Valley.
"I didn't watch the ESPN telecasts of the games until about six weeks ago, and putting that film in and seeing the McDonough Center and live from Wheeling, W.Va. really makes you feel proud," Merrick said. "ESPN was pleased obviously with the players, but also the crowd and how the bands we had created like a Big Ten environment."
Simeon, which played in the CRC last season, features the Class of 2013's number two ranked player in Jabari Parker. Parker, however, is rounding back into form after a stress fracture slowed him down during the fall and pre-season.
The senior class' number one ranked player - Andrew Wiggins - will also be playing. Wiggins plays for Huntington Prep. It will take on Prime Prep, which is located in Dallas, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Prime Prep, which is a school that was opened by NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, had three of its players ruled ineligible, after they transferred from Grace Prep, for the season by the University Interscholastic League. Prime Prep, in turn, withdrew from the league and all of its players are back in the lineup.
Merrick is under the impression that Sanders will accompany the team to Wheeling.
Whitney-Young, which is based in Chicago, will meet Neumann-Goretti from Philadelphia at 3:30 p.m. Whitney-Young features one of the nation's top juniors in Jalil Okafor.
The list of Cancer Research Classic Alumni, which can be found on the event's website, is nothing short of impressive. It includes three current NBA players (Tyreke Evans, Kris Joseph and Maalik Wayns) and countless college players from all levels. Of the college players, more than 50 have gone on to play at a BCS-level school.
"You really can't turn on a big-time college game without seeing a kid who played here," Merrick said. "I think we're over 250 kids who've played or are playing at the college level. I really think that will continue to grow, too."
While the games get under way on Friday, Jan. 4, the weekend gets under way a night earlier at the second annual CRC Tip-off dinner at Oglebay Park's Glessner Auditorium.
Yorkville native Dino Gaudio will serve as the keynote speaker for the event. Gaudio is the former head coach at Wake Forest University and is currently an analyst for the ESPN Family of Networks.
"I really think Dino will sell that dinner out," Merrick said. "As great as Clark Kellogg was last year, I think because of the local interest that surrounds Dino, and his career, the attendance for that event will be even better."
The use of bands will continue for each game of the weekend, according to Merrick. Steubenville Big Red's marching band will perform during the two televised games.
The complete schedule is as follows:
Friday, Jan. 4
4:30 p.m. - Linsly vs. Seton-La Salle (Pittsburgh, PA).
6:00 p.m. - Wheeling Central vs. Mercersburg (Mercersburg, PA).
7:30 p.m. - Huntington St. Joseph Prep (Huntington, WV) vs. Prime Prep (Dallas, TX).
9:00 p.m. - Lower Merion (Ardmore, PA) vs. St. Raymond (Bronx, NY).
Saturday, Jan. 5
12:30 p.m. - St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia, PA) vs. Wheeling Park.
2:00 p.m. - DeMatha (Hyattsville, MD) vs. Gill St. Bernard's (Gladstone, NJ).
3:30 p.m. - Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia, PA) vs. Whitney Young (Chicago).
6:00 p.m. - Montverde (Montverde, FL) vs. Simeon (Chicago, IL).
8:00 p.m. - Gonzaga (Washington, DC) vs. Salesian (Richmond, CA).