By: Monty Mosher
At six-foot-11, it might have been unreasonable to expect Mike Shoveller to slip into Dalhousie unnoticed.
But throw in his family name and it became impossible.
The 23-year-old Shoveller is a fifth-year post joining the Tigers men's basketball team under coach Rick Plato. He played four seasons at Queen's, a career interrupted by ACL surgery that caused him to miss a season and forced him to re-evaluate his attitude and approach.
His father is Bruce Shoveller, who grew up in Dartmouth and went on to star at Queen's, earning team MVP in his final season. His grandparents were Rod and Joan Shoveller, who are remembered each year at Dalhousie with a holiday basketball tournament named in their honour.
Rod Shoveller, at one time the special events co-ordinator at Dalhousie, had a great love for basketball as a coach, referee, athletic director and as the father in a basketball family. A member of the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, he died of cancer in 1991, well before Mike was born.
Joan Shoveller was a fixture around Dalhousie basketball for years after that until her death in 2014.
"We spent all of our summers growing up out here visiting my nan while she was still alive," said Mike Shoveller, a native of Arnprior, Ont. "My aunt, Lynda, still lives out here. We spent a lot of time out here growing up."
Silver medal at Commonwealth Games
He averaged 11 points, 6.7 rebounds and two blocks, starting all 23 games, in his last year at Queen's, putting his injury concerns in the past. He was rewarded with a roster spot on Canada's silver-medal winning team at Commonwealth Games in Australia in the summer.
But this isn't just about basketball and a chance to play in the U Sports national championship this spring, which the Tigers are in either as conference champion or host. He has a political science degree from Queen's and has entered a master's program in public administration at Dalhousie.
He said there were many reasons to come to Dalhousie.
"First and foremost, it was academics," he said. "I felt the program I'm doing was a good fit. And after that, the basketball, there's just such a unique connection with Dal. With my family connection it was just too unique to pass up. The fit was good with the team. There was a spot where I would be able to come in and play and have an impact, so it all just kind of matched up."
Plato said Shoveller brings experience and offensive versatility.
"Obviously, at six-foot-11, Mike is a force inside, both as a scorer and rebounder," he said. "In addition, he has an excellent outside touch and is a solid passer. Most importantly, he is a great young man, a great teammate and is very supportive of his teammates and might be one of the most positive-thinking student-athletes we have had here in my six years."
Knee injury 'a pivotal moment'
Shoveller reached out to Plato to tell him he was applying to Dalhousie for university and that he would be interested in playing if accepted.
A former Team Ontario player, Shoveller averaged 2.2, 5.8 and 4.9 points per game in his first three seasons for the Gaels.
He was injured in training prior to his fourth OUA season and had to miss the entire 2016-17 campaign. Faced with the prospect of up to 12 months to get back on the basketball court, he did it in seven.
"That was a pivotal moment in my basketball career, and I think in life in general,' he said. "It taught me a lot. That injury made me put things into perspective. It helped me mature a lot. I was able to come back and make a strong recovery and then, last year, have a pretty successful year.
"It let me take a step back and look at basketball and appreciate what I had before I had gotten hurt. It reignited that passion I had for basketball."
Tigers in transition
The Tigers have entered a transitional period after winning three straight AUS titles before having that run ended by UNB last year. The names are less familiar now than they were a few years back.
Shoveller brings a veteran presence to the group as it matures toward tournament time in March.
Playing for his country helped his growth as a player.
"If you had asked me when I was hurt or rehabbing if that was at all possible, I would have told you no way. But I worked really hard and was able to have a successful year last. It was just such an honour to get the call just to be considered. Once I was on the team it was like a dream come true.
"As a kid, something I always wanted to do was play for Team Canada. To get to live out that dream and go to Australia was amazing."
Plato is a notorious taskmaster, particularly when it comes to the defensive end. Shoveller will earn his minutes on the floor like everyone else.
"It's been great," he said. "Coach Plato is tough and you have to earn everything with him. But for me coming in as an older guy I'm just trying to bring experience and a level of maturity and just try to be a mentor to younger guys. But the guys have been really welcoming and I'm just trying to help the team however I can."
The Tigers completed a 9-1 pre-season that included winning the Naismith Classic in Ontario with wins over Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier and Ottawa. They open their regular-season schedule with games Saturday and Sunday against Cape Breton in Halifax.
Shoveller tournament 'once-in-a-lifetime' chance
The pre-season has allowed us to play a bunch of different teams and get used to playing with each other and I think the team that you see is now, we're not nearly as good as we are going to be in March when nationals come around," Shoveller said. "That's the end goal, to be playing our best basketball in the nationals."
He's constantly reminded of his family name in his new city.
"I've felt at home ever since I got here. It's been really cool just to be around the city, and around Dal, and have people come up to me who knew my grandparents and tell me stories about them because I never got a chance to meet my grandfather."
From Dec. 28-30, Shoveller will play in the tournament that bears his family name. Queen's played in the event in 2016-17, the year he was sidelined.
"It will be pretty special. I'm excited, but my family is equally excited. It's always been such an honour to have that tournament named for my grandparents. While my nan was still alive she was always right there at centre court and it meant a lot to her. She and I had a special connection when I was growing up so it's going to mean a lot to me to play in that tournament with my family there supporting me. It's will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
(Monty Mosher is an award-winning sportswriter with more than 30 years covering university sport in the Atlantic region. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)