WHEELING - Dr. Gregory Merrick has taken just an idea to promote men's health with basketball serving as the vehicle and turned it into one of the premier high school basketball events in the United States.
The matchups for the eighth annual Cancer Research Classic, which is scheduled for Jan. 2 and 3 at Wheeling Jesuit University's Alma Grace McDonough Center, were unveiled during a press conference Tuesday afternoon at Wheeling Hospital.
"The event is deeper this year," Merrick said. "We probably have more top five, top 10 and top 20 teams than we've ever had before. I hope that it will continue to get better and better, too. I think we're right near the top in terms of quality, but we have to stay there."
When Merrick speaks of the depth, he's not just talking about the teams. Because, on nationally ranked teams, you have nationally ranked players. And the 2015 CRC won't be short on future major college and professional players.
"We have the elite talent again," Merrick said.
Merrick pointed out players like Jayson Tatum (Chaminade), Jalen Brunson (Stevenson), Tyus Battle (Gill St. Bernard's), Stephen Zimmerman (Bishop Gorman), Chase Jeter (Bishop Gorman), P.J. Washington (Prime Prep), Carlton Bragg (VASJ) and Ben Simmons (Montverde) as just some of the names that have the makes of possible future lottery picks down the road.
"We have that (Andrew) Wiggins, (Jabari) Parker, (Jahlil) Okafor kind of talent and probably more of them than ever before," Merrick said.
Along with top of the teams from throughout the country, hometown teams - Wheeling Park and Wheeling Central - will both take part once again.
Park will play on Saturday against Neumann-Goretti, while Central will play on Friday against Gill St. Bernard's from New Jersey.
"Park and Central are both playing the most competitive teams that they've played in the history of the event," Merrick said. "There are no bad teams and no cupcake games."
As one would expect, don't expect Merrick to rest on his accomplishments. The CRC has gotten to the point where Merrick is turning teams that express interest in coming away.
"If we had the funding, we could probably double or triple the size of this event because we have that many teams wanting to come," Merrick said. "We don't get everyone we want because of scheduling, conflicts and other people have to go other places, but we do turn away a lot of people."
The event, which have drawn huge crowds the last few years, has built quite the list of alumni already, including two NBA Rookies of the Year (Tyreke Evans and Michael Carter-Williams) and just last week the top two picks (Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker) in the draft played in the Ohio Valley.
Merrick admitted that he was excited last Thursday when he heard the first names selected by the Cavaliers and Bucks, respectively.
"It's always exciting (to think about these guys getting drafted knowing they played in the CRC)," Merrick said. "How can you not get excited to see someone like Jabari Parker?"
Merrick was also proud to announce that many of the area bands will be back to perform between games, at halftime and during stoppages in play. Bands from Steubenville, Indian Creek and Wheeling Park have already committed and he indicated a few more will be added.
"I think the bands are very exciting for the games and brings a whole level of intensity," Merrick said. "I think it's good for the Ohio Valley to have those kids involved."
The tip-off dinner, which was cancelled late this year, will not be held in 2015 because of New Year's Day.
"I think the banquet has been a great addition and we'll look to continue that in the future, but being on a holiday made it tough," Merrick said.
Game times haven't been set for any of the games as of yet. No decisions on whether any of the games will be broadcast on national television have been made either.
The complete 2015 Cancer Research Classic schedule is as follows:
Friday, Jan. 2
Gill St. Bernard's (New Jersey) vs. Wheeling Central; Prime Prep Academy vs. Villa Angela-St. Joseph; Stevenson, Ill. vs. Chaminade (St. Louis); Archbishop Carroll (Pa.) vs. La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) and Montverde Academy vs. Whitney Young.
Saturday, Jan. 3
Montverde vs. Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.), Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) vs. Simeon; Stevenson vs. Gonzaga (Washington D.C.); Prime Prep vs. Huntington Prep; Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia) vs. Wheeling Park.