CRC still delivering great hoops

WHEELING – For those organizing the seventh annual Cancer Research Classic, Friday was a whirlwind of a day.

Though Dr. Gregory Merrick and his staff dealt with Mother Nature’s wrath, which caused countless flight delays and cancellations throughout the east coast and midwest and eventually led to the cancellation of a game and addition of another, the CRC tipped off with a huge crowd looking on as some of the premier high school basketball talent in America converged on Wheeling Jesuit University’s McDonough Center.

And as has been the case basically every year since Merrick’s vision to promote men’s health through basketball became a reality, the play on the court didn’t disappoint Friday night.

Whether you were a fan of high-flying dunks, solid defense or even a proponent of a shot clock being adopted for prep basketball, the CRC had it all. And there will be even more of it available today.

The premier game of the night, which was broadcast on ESPNU, was Cleveland Villa Angela St. Joseph against Bishop Gorman from Las Vegas.

It was a matchup of a few of the premier junior big men in the country, including Stephen Zimmerman of Bishop Gorman and Carlton Bragg of VASJ.

Unfortunately for the Ohioans, Zimmerman wasn’t the only ‘big’ the Gaels put on the floor and that proved to be too big of an issue to overcome. Bishop Gorman posted a 73-60 victory.

“I am proud of us, but, in my former profession, which was a United States Army soldier, you don’t get a whole lot for second place,” said VASJ head coach Babe Kwasniak.

You hear basketball analysts talk all the time about length and Gorman brought it in droves because on top of Zimmerman, Gorman had Chase Jeter (6-10) and Nick Blair (6-6) across its front line.

“We’re used to being longer than basically everyone we play, but for once, we played someone a lot longer than us and I think they altered some of our shots,” Kwasniak said.

For VASJ, it was its first appearance on national television, but the event, which Kwasniak offered high praise toward, is just another step in the journey for the Vikings, who have significantly upped their schedule as both a showcase for Bragg and to better prepare themselves for what lies ahead in the OHSAA Division III tournament.

“I played Division I ball (at Army) and I think this was my first time (playing) on ESPN, too,” Kwasniak smiled. “I don’t think we were nervous, but it was more the things their length makes you do.”

Bragg struggled from the field in the first half and admitted that he may have been fighting some nerves as Kentucky head coach John Calipari, from whom he holds a scholarship offer, was watching the game.

It was the first time I had the opportunity to see Wheeling Park play in its young season. There’s certainly solid reason to believe that Michael Jebbia’s team will be a player in the West Virginia Class AAA and OVAC 5A chase later this winter.

The Patriots have solid size and good guard play. They gave undefeated Seton La Salle all it wanted before dropping a 62-58 score.

Similar to VASJ, it was the first time that Park found itself on the short end of the size stick.

“We’ve got pretty good size, but they really had the size to battle with us,” Jebbia said. “We’re 6-4 and 6-5, which is pretty good around here and normally at the state level, but they really limited us to one shot and out.”

Wheeling Park is accustomed to playing in the showcase events. It played in one earlier this season in Charleston and has another later this month at West Muskingum High School in Zanesville against Columbus Beechcroft.

However, the competition and level of play at the CRC is something that Jebbia and his players look forward to.

“We like the one-game events,” Jebbia said. “You get to play against different teams and see different styles.”

While disappointed about the outcome, Jebbia liked how his team competed, especially after getting blown out in last year’s CRC.

Wheeling Central gets into the CRC act and will carry the local banner today.


* TODAY’S schedule did undergo a minor change. The day will begin at 1:30 p.m. when Wheeling Central and St. Joseph’s Prep tip things off. Originally, that game was scheduled for the opener at 12:05 p.m.

However, the change occurred because Simeon, which is located in Chicago, was unable to get a flight to Pittsburgh due to weather. According to Merrick, Simeon had two lengthy delays at the airport in Chicago before learning their flights were canceled completely.

Thus, the Simeon and Neumann-Goretti game was cancelled.

The balance of the schedule is the same.

Calipari wasn’t the only major college coach on hand at press row. North Carolina’s Roy Williams also checked out the second game of the day. The pair was beseiged by autograph and photograph seekers at halftime.

Staskey can be reached at