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Lake Norman product Kevin Canevari gives Duke opponent Mercer a spark

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

RALEIGH The NCAA tournament is dominated by talk of brackets and big-time star players whose NBA future is almost assured.

But the tournament may mean even more to someone like Kevin Canevari, the senior guard from Mercer who starred for Lake Norman High’s state championship team in 2010.

You won’t see a lot of Canevari when Mercer plays Duke on Friday. He backs up Langston Hall, the Atlantic Sun player of the year and a guy so good that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said any ACC team would love to have him.

Canevari, on the other hand, plays about 5-10 minutes a game when Hall gets tired or in foul trouble. “I’m a pass-first point guard who just tries to run the team when I get a chance,” he said.

Still, Canevari is in the NCAA tournament for the first time. And he grew up in the Lake Norman area. And he represents a lot of what is right about college basketball.

Mercer coach Bob Hoffman saw Canevari play for Lake Norman while he was scouting someone else. Hoffman didn’t have a scholarship for him, but he liked him enough to ask him to walk on. Canevari’s mailbox wasn’t exactly bulging with Division I-A interest. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound guard said he would do it. Finally, for his senior season, Hoffman gave Canevari a scholarship.

Said Hoffman: “Kevin is one of those guys who is … an energy giver. Every day, he’s giving himself to everybody on the floor, bumping fists, slapping fives, slapping you on the back. … The character of that young man is going to make him successful forever. He’s going to graduate with honors. He’s everything you’d want in a student-athlete. He’s a poster child for the NCAA. I mean they should come out, take pictures of him, put him all over the country – this is what you want to recruit.”

Mercer, which will soon join the Southern Conference, has made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985.

In four years, Canevari has scored 82 points for Mercer – N.C. State’s T.J. Warren scored 83 in back-to-back games late this ACC season. But Hoffman said a player like Canevari should be recognized on a day like this, and I agree.

“He doesn’t get the minutes,” Hoffman said. “He doesn’t get the points, but he’s a huge difference-maker for our program.”

• When Duke star Jabari Parker was asked to describe himself in one adjective Friday, he came up with this one: “Caring.”

• No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina – which is Virginia’s opponent in a 9:25 p.m. game Friday – hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1993. So you may not be aware that their athletics teams are called the “Chanticleers,” which is a fancy word for roosters. The school shortens that to the “Chants,” however. You could use it in a sentence like this: The “Chants” have little chance against Virginia.

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