Field Is Unveiled for Cancer Research Classic
Park returns to face Moon, WC to take on Butler
WHEELING — Dr. Gregory Merrick is never satisfied.
Especially as it pertains to the Cancer Research Classic, Merrick is always seeking to do more.
And for the 11th consecutive year, Merrick, who serves as the director of the Schiffler Cancer Center and men’s health at Wheeling Hospital, firmly believes he’s outdone himself once again.
“We have a new venue, we’re once again on ESPN and we have, arguably, the best lineup to date,” Merrick said during his remarks at a press conference held Wednesday afternoon at Wheeling Hospital. “We’re really ready to go.”
The 12th annual CRC will feature 13 games over the course of Jan. 4-5 and for the first time the event is shifting venues to WesBanco Arena in downtown Wheeling after spending its first 11 years at the McDonough Center at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Though games times aren’t set yet, Merrick announced the matchups of teams that is expected to include 12 of the top 20 teams in the national poll when it’s announced in the coming months.
“We have some old faces, some new faces and some teams that haven’t been here in a while,” Merrick said. “The depth of this lineup is what separates it from those in the past. Every team that comes here could lose any game it plays or win any game, which could destroy its chances of making the national tournament. These teams have to come here prepared and ready to go.”
Five of the last six high school national champions are set to take part in the CRC, including Montverde Academy, which will play on both days of the event.
“Montverde is the defending national champion and are again loaded with 15 or 16 Division I players with three who will probably make the NBA,” Merrick said.
Montverde will take on a newcomer in Norcross from Georgia on Friday and tangle with La Lumiere — a seemingly yearly entrant — on Saturday.
“La Lumiere is a private, Catholic school that does things right,” Merrick said. “They also have two (future) NBA players on their team.”
Sunrise Christian will make its debut in the event Friday and play Saturday, too. It will meet Imhotep from Pennsylvania on Friday and then Findlay Prep on Saturday.
“Sunrise has been on our radar and they have some really good players,” Merrick said.
Norcross and Sunrise Christian are the lone newcomers to the field, but when it comes to bringing new schools, Merrick is somewhat handcuffed.
“There are only about 10 teams in the country now at this level,” Merrick said. “Everyone is recruiting, no one stays home to play and after you get past the top 10, it’s pretty much done.”
The CRC will also showcase both Wheeling Central and Wheeling Park, which returns after not taking part in the 2018 event.
Central — the reigning Class A state champion — will take on Butler, Pa on Saturday, while Park will face Moon on Friday.
“Butler has the most talented player that Central will ever, ever have played against,” Merrick said. “That’s Ethan Morton, who is a 6-6 guard. He’s an outstanding kid and I know Wheeling Central will be ready for that game. It’s good to have Park back. One of the most satisfying parts of this is being able to give our local kids some exposure that they’d never be able to receive.”
The CRC was ranked the second best national prep hoops event in the country in 2018 and Merrick expects that to be a similar number again in 2019.
“We’ve had 38 future NBA players take part in this event and by the time the season starts, I think we’ll add two more,” Merrick said. “There have been 800 kids who have played here who have gone on to play college basketball. The chances of playing Division I basketball is somewhat less than a percent and 85 percent of our college players have played Division I at the biggest and best schools in the country.”
Merrick is excited to have the CRC on the rejuvenated basketball schedule for WesBanco Arena.
“We simply outgrew Wheeling Jesuit and we’re not leaving there, but we’re hoping it comes with us,” Merrick said. “There are three yearly events, and I am hoping we can add to that in years to come.”
The Sam Andy Classic will be staged in the arena in December, while the Mountain East Conference will bring its men’s and women’s tournaments to the ‘Friendly City’ in March. Sandwiched between is the CRC.
“The CRC brings attention to Wheeling and our entire region that no other sporting event, in this area, has been able to do,” Merrick said. “The CRC players will be the absolute best players to ever grace the floor at WesBanco Arena over the past 20 years.”
Here’s a look at the complete schedule:
Friday, Jan. 4
Montverde vs. Norcross
Findlay Prep vs. McEachern
La Lumiere vs. Bishop Gorman
Imhotep vs. Sunrise Christian
Wheeling Park vs. Moon
Saturday, Jan. 5
Montverde vs. La Lumiere
Findlay vs. Sunrise Christian
DeMatha vs. Norcross
Imhotep vs. McEachern
Bishop Gorman vs. Gonzaga
Wheeling Central vs. Butler, Pa.
Roselle Catholic vs. First Love Christian