You'd be hard pressed to ask for more from a weekend of basketball than what the sixth annual Cancer Research Classic delivered last Friday and Saturday.
From the moment Dr. Gregory Merrick released the matchups, the anticipation begins as many of the premier players and teams in the United States converge on Wheeling Jesuit University.
If you were looking for great guard play, it was there; great post play, the CRC had tons of it; up-and-coming stars - they were there, too.
SIMEON’S Jabari Parker goes up for a dunk during Saturday’s game in the Cancer Research Classic. Parker, who is heading to Duke, and Simeon lost to Montverde, Fla.
About the only thing the CRC lacked was competitive games. The closest game of the nine was the final game of the weekend, which matched Salesian against D.C. Gonzaga.
That's okay though because there were other factors to keep the fans firmly planted in their seats. Just being able to watch some of the future stars of basketball is enough.
There were countless plays made that you just don't see on a normal Tuesday or Friday night around the Ohio Valley or even much of Ohio or West Virginia for that matter.
Merrick and his staff at the Schiffler Cancer Center, who spend countless hours working on the event, deserve major kudos once again. Pulling off an event of the CRC's magnitude is no easy task.
It's not just a basketball showcase anymore. It's an event the entire Ohio Valley can be proud of and one that the sports fans in the area have etched onto their yearly calendars.
I've gotten to know Merrick pretty well over the last few years through the CRC and I know he's not about to rest on what he's built. The thing that's the most impressive about Merrick from a basketball perspective is his lack of satisfaction.
The status quo isn't good enough. He wants the CRC to be the best basketball event in the United States and he's well on his way.
On top of the basketball, he wants to continue to promote men's health, which when we walked by the tables set up in the lobby at WJU, people were being tested and picking up literature.
So, it's working in that regard, too.
Again, kudos to Dr. Merrick, his staff, Wheeling Hospital, Wheeling Jesuit and the sports fans of the Ohio Valley for making this an event that's here to stay.
CRC LOCAL FLAVOR
It was a rough go for the local teams in the Cancer Research Classic, but many expected that. Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central and Linsly are all three fairly young teams that found themselves up against stiff competition.
The beautiful thing about basketball is you can afford a few losses and playing against upper echelon competition can only prove to be beneficial.
Obviously, neither Michael Jebbia, Mel Stephens nor James Wallace wanted to lose, but all three are able to look back on the experience with a positive attitude.
We certainly hope Merrick continues to invite local teams and maybe even branch it out a little more.
By that, we mean maybe have the team that's expected to be the 'premier' team in the area take part and rotate the other three schools.
Since the inception of the CRC, Merrick has been selling and selling this event to basketball coaches around the tri-state area and encouraging them to bring their teams to the event.
We saw many squads there taking advantage of the significantly discounted rate. Included were Harrison Central, St. Clairsville, Cambridge and a few schools from Pennsylvania.
It's a good experience for the area players to see the premier players in the nation and hopefully they realize that they didn't get to that point just by accident. Obviously, most of the players are blessed with tremendous size and foot speed, but those kids work extremely hard on their craft, playing basketball all-year round.
Press row turned into coaches row during Saturday's action. Kentucky head coach John Calipari returned along with one of his top assistants Orlando Antigua.
It was well worth the trip because Montverde's Dakari Johnson announced his verbal commitment to the Wildcats at halftime of the Salesian vs. D.C. Gonzaga encounter on live television.
Also on hand for every game on Saturday was first-year Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie. Many of the basketball gurus at press row weren't exactly sure who specifically he was there to watch, but he didn't miss a game.
Along with those head coaches, assistants from Florida and Penn State were on hand.
THINKING AHEAD TO 2014
We're sure Merrick woke up Sunday morning and started thinking immediately who he was going to invite to the 2014 event.
The CRC is getting to the point in terms of a nationally recognized event where Merrick probably doesn't have to beat down doors anymore to convince teams to come.
Because of the level of play, national media attention, perks and treatment of the players, the nationally recognized schools are probably blowing up Merrick's cell phone hoping to get an invite.
In talking with highly respect Ohio Prep Basketball Writer Kurt Stubbs, who is a long-time friend of mine, we were both on the same page that one team that is a near must to bring back is Whitney Young from Chicago. The Dolphins will return Jahlil Okafor, who will most likely be the top-rated player in the Class of 2014.
We know Merrick and his staff won't leave a stone unturned as he puts together another top-shelf event.
Staskey can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org