Monday, November 7, 2011

Louisville's Peyton Siva knows his place

Calling Peyton Siva the most important player on a University of Louisville men’s basketball team that also has Kyle Kuric and Gorgui Dieng could make for talk-radio and message-board arguments.

What can’t be debated is that Siva presents a luxury coach Rick Pitino hadn’t previously had during his tenure at U of L. Reece Gaines, Taquan Dean, Brandon Jenkins, Andre McGee and Edgar Sosa all had different strengths, but none could be called a pure point guard.

“The thing that we bring to the table is something unique,” Siva said.

“Mine is distributing the ball and moving it around so hopefully everybody contributes and everybody will play a big role this year.”

Siva’s 5.2-assist average last season was the fifth highest in school history. Only Phil Bond (1975-76 and ’76-77) and LaBradford Smith (1988-89 and ’89-90) have produced higher numbers. Siva’s 182 assists were the fourth-highest season total.

McGee, now on Pitino’s staff as a program assistant, predicts Siva’s assist numbers will rise this season.

“He’s starting to understand and realize what makes him look good,” McGee said. “He’s starting to take that role as (Boston Celtics guard Rajon) Rondo kind of has: knowing that he’s the engine behind everybody getting off.”

That Siva grew into the role last season was a byproduct of inheriting the starting job from Sosa. Siva, who also averaged 9.9 points and 3.1 rebounds, endured the difficult process of figuring out how Pitino wanted his offense run and learning to implement it.

Senior Chris Smith witnessed Siva’s struggles as a freshman. The same plays Siva was used to making in high school with superior athleticism no longer were available in college.

“He was turning the ball over in practice like crazy,” Smith said.

“Coach said he set the record.”

Siva’s speed allowed him to penetrate with ease, but once he got past the initial defender he’d be stuck in the lane with nowhere to go with the ball. It led to a lot of ill-advised passes and shots.

McGee said Siva’s early problems were typical of point guards coming into Pitino’s system. As a freshman his 46 turnovers nearly matched his 56 assists. That’s part of what prevented Siva, who was Washington’s 2009 Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All American, from beating out Sosa for the starting job.

“That’s what he most had issues with. He’s never been in a predicament where he had to sit there and watch or play behind anyone his whole career playing basketball,” said Daryll Hennings, Siva’s AAU coach.

“He’d never been through that, so that was kind of a learning process for him that was a good thing.”

When Siva first played on Hennings’ Seattle Rotary Select team, he developed a reputation for not knowing how to channel his competitive rage. It often led him to cry from anger on the court and mouth off to officials.

He took the rigors of his first year at U of L as a challenge to get better.

“My freshman year was hard,” Siva said.

“I felt like, why would I even be here at Louisville? At the end of that year I knew I really had to clamp down and learn the game of basketball if I wanted to play.”

The biggest adjustment was learning to control his speed. He used to know only one level, which is why he ended up committing so many turnovers and getting into foul trouble.

“He’s so fast at times it can hurt him being out of control,” McGee said. “That’s one thing especially from back then to now he’s really changed a lot. He’s not out of control; he uses gears. Nobody in the country has the foot speed that can keep up with him.”

No other series typified Siva’s improvement than the Cardinals’ three games against eventual national champion Connecticut last season.


That’s why Pitino has told some recruits that Siva could skip his senior season and become a first-round NBA draft pick.

“We think he’s one of the premier point guards in the country,” Pitino said.

“He had a lot of turnovers his freshman year. Now he’s playing fast, but he’s not turning it over.”

Pitino said whichever team he places Siva on in practice doesn’t lose. Siva proved that in the Cardinals’ two public intrasquad scrimmages.

Siva’s development has been obvious to his teammates. Smith said the best is yet to come.

“This summer playing with Siva was like, wow, we have a true point guard and a true leader now,” he said.

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