Cancer Research Classic slate announced

WHEELING — It’s hard to fathom that the Cancer Research Classic can get better each year.

But, that’s exactly the case as tournament director Dr. Gregory Merrick — executive director of the Schiffler Cancer Center, Urologic Research Institute and Men’s Health Center at Wheeling Hospital — formally announced the teams and matchups for the 11th annual event, which will be held Jan. 5 and 6 at Wheeling Jesuit University, during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“A lot of things happened over the first 10 years to take us from the point where you could almost hear the ball bounce with just a few people in the gym, to the event it is today,” Merrick said.

The card will feature 10 games with four playing on Friday and six on Saturday. Sixteen teams, representing nine states and Washington D.C., will take part in the event. All told, 12 of the top 20 teams in the national prep polls will be in the Friendly City.

“Every year I say I think we’ve done better (with the schedule of games) and I feel like I’m able to say that again,” Merrick said. “Last year, we had eight players who played in the McDonald’s All-American Game here, but some of the games’ scores weren’t as tight as I would have liked, but that’s why you play the games.”

The field consists of DeMatha, Findlay Prep, D.C. Gonzaga, La Lumiere, Mater Dei, Montverde Academy, Wheeler, IMG Academy, Imhotep, Webster Groves, McEachern, Oak Ridge, Archbishop Wood, First Love Christian Academy, Mars, Pa. and Wheeling Central is the lone area team.

La Lumiere won the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Championship in the spring. The Indiana-based school has underwent a coaching change. Shane Heirman left to accept an assistant’s job at DePaul. However, the pipeline of talent is far from dry. Point guard Tyger Campbell is back as the team’s leader.

“La Lu had big graduation losses, losing kids to Louisville, Michigan State, Creighton and others, but they’ve really reloaded,” Merrick said. “They’ll be back in the Dick’s Tournament again. Tyger Campbell is my favorite point guard in the country.”

La Lumiere will play both on Friday and Saturday and will take on Imhotep, which is based in Philadelphia, on Friday. It’s making its inaugural trip to the CRC.

“Imhotep finished third in the USA Today rankings last year and return six of their top eight,” Merrick said. “They lost two quality guards, but they’re all 6-6 to 6-8, so they’re pretty much interchangeable.”

Montverde Academy, which had been a staple in the event since the program’s rise to national prominence, returns after taking 2017 off. It, too, will play on both day.

Montverde, which will play Archbishop Wood on Friday and La Lumiere on Saturday, features R.J. Barrett who is the number one player in the Class of 2018. He has a laundry list of offers from basically all of college basketball’s heavyweights, including Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona and UCLA.

“It’s always nice to have the number one player in the country in the event,” Merrick said. “Kevin (Boyle) has assembled quite a roster of talent.”

Findlay Prep, which is based in surburban Las Vegas, returns again after finishing as national runnerup in the Dick’s Tournament and will play on both days. Gone, though, is P.J. Washington. He’s now playing at Kentucky.

Findlay will play First Love Christian from Washington, Pa. on Friday and IMG Academy on Saturday.

As for IMG, Merrick believes they’ll have three starters who rank in ESPN’s Top 30 listing. Included is 7-3 senior Chol Marial, who holds upwards of numerous offers, including one from West Virginia.

Merrick is also extremely high on Mater Dei, which is based in Santa Ana, Calif. It features Bol Bol — the 7-2 son of former NBA player Manute Bol.

D.C. Gonzaga has become a perennial entrant in the field. After finishing ninth in the final poll last season, Gonzaga returns everyone except 5-8 point guard Chris Lykes, who is now at Miami.

Some of the other players Merrick pointed out were Oak Ridge’s Emmitt Williams, who set a CRC record for rebounds last winter for IMG; Wheeler’s E.J. Montgomery, DeMatha’s Hunter Dickinson and McEachern’s Sharife Cooper.

Wheeling Central is the lone area team in the field. The Maroon Knights have been part of every CRC since the event’s inception and are the only team with that distinction.

“Central is the ironman of the event,” Merrick said. “We value our local teams participating, but not every year, every team will be in it.”

The Maroon Knights will be pitted against Mars, Pa., which is located in suburban Pittsburgh. Mars features Notre Dame commit Robby Carmody.

“We’re very excited about this game,” Merrick said. “Mars is very well coached and will provide a real test. We like to give the local team a test to get prepared for the state. Central always comes through with a spirited and competitive game.”

Along with the schedule of games, Merrick also announced that a new ticket option is available. For the first time, court-side seating will be available and it will cost $60 for the weekend or $25 for Friday and $45 for Saturday. Those tickets, which are currently on sale at Wheeling Hospital, must be purchased in advance and are on sale until Dec. 29.

Weekend general admission passes are $18 for adults and $10 for students and reserved seating is available for $55 for the weekend. A special rate is available for middle school, high school, travel or any basketball team. The cost is $90 for 20 tickets (16 players and four coaches), which covers all 10 games.

The bands will also return. Merrick announced that St. Clairsville, Harding Middle School, Barnesville and Indian Creeks are committed. One additional band will be added.

The complete 2018 Cancer Research Classic schedule is as follows:

Friday, Jan. 5

La Lumiere vs. Imhotep (Philadelphia)

Montverde vs. Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa).

Findlay Prep vs. First Love Christian (Washington, Pa.).

IMG Academy vs. Oak Ridge (Orlando)

Saturday, Jan. 6

La Lumiere vs. Montverde

Mater Dei vs. D.C. Gonzaga

Findlay Prep vs. IMG Academy

Wheeler vs. Webster Groves

McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.) vs. DeMatha

Wheeling Central vs. Mars, Pa.