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.
Six of the ranked teams will go head-to-head Saturday, including top teams Simeon, from Chicago, and Montverde, Fla., 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 possibly three potential lottery picks,'' Merrick said.
That game will be broadcast live on ESPN2. The final game of the weekend - Gonzaga from Washington D.C. and Salesian from near San Francisco - will be shown on ESPNU.
It's the second straight season ESPN has brought its Geico High School Basketball Showcase to the Ohio Valley.
Simeon, which played in the CRC last season, features the Class of 2013's No. 2-ranked player in Jabari Parker. Parker, however, is rounding back into form after a stress fracture slowed him down during the fall and preseason.
The senior class' No. 1 player, Andrew Wiggins, will also take part. 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, a school that was opened by NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, had three of its players ruled ineligible for the season by the University Interscholastic League after they transferred from Grace Prep. 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.
''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 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.