Thursday, March 29, 2012

To University of Louisville guard Peyton Siva, assists are a way of life 12:27 AM, Mar. 29, 2012

Yvette Gaston wondered why in the world an extension cord would be running from her house into her garage. As she followed the cord from the power outlet outside to her older son’s Chevrolet Impala, she became more incensed.

Crumpled up bags from McDonald’s, empty potato chip sacks and candy wrappers led to a PlayStation portable console. Then she noticed the pillows and blankets in the car’s back seat.

It wasn’t just litter from her kids hanging out. It was someone’s living quarters.

“PeyPey!” Gaston yelled, calling the nickname of the youngest of her three children and waiting for his guilty face to emerge.

Peyton Siva came forward, knowing his mother wasn’t pleased but not exactly feeling that he did something wrong.

Assists have always been Siva’s specialty, and this was just an off-the-court example.

He had persuaded his mother to let a troubled high school teammate move into their home. When she found out the teammate was still involved with a gang, she said he no longer could stay in the house.

Siva knew why his mother had to take a stand, but he also knew that kid was homeless.

“Trouble always seemed to find him,” said Siva, a self-proclaimed momma’s boy who’s now the University of Louisville’s junior point guard. “Even though my mom said he couldn’t stay with us, he still had no place to sleep. He was like a little brother to me. I was just trying to get him off the streets and keep him safe.”

Gaston couldn’t really be mad at her son. He had watched her do the same thing countless times herself.

She constantly opened her home to those who needed help. There was the mother in her early 20s who had a 7-year-old daughter and was trying to stay clean after kicking a drug habit. There were two sisters, ages 3 and 10, whose mother was in prison and whose father’s girlfriend didn’t want them around.

Gaston even opened her doors to Peyton Siva Sr. and his girlfriend. Gaston had divorced him when PeyPey was 6 months old, but they needed a place to stay for about a month.

“You do what you can to help people,” she said. “God has blessed me, so if I can help somebody I do.”

Her son clearly embodies that same spirit. U of L coach Rick Pitino calls Siva one of the five best people he has ever coached. A former AAU coach, Daryll Hennings, recalled someone writing that Siva is a pied piper who leads others down the right path. He wears No. 3 for the Holy Trinity, and he’s been involved in Bible study since high school.

“He’s not fake in any way. He’s always true to himself and his beliefs,” said older brother Michael Siva. “I look at him like Tim Tebow — people look for flaws, but I don’t see any, and I’m his brother.”

Michael credits his brother with helping his turnaround from a fast life that eventually led to incarceration. Peyton Sr., who has dealt with depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts, calls his youngest son an inspiration.

Siva credits his mother’s love as the reason he emerged from his less-than-ideal surroundings without falling into the traps that had doomed generations of his family. His maternal grandfather battled addiction. Siva’s father did, too.

Peyton Sr. said he was molested as a child and didn’t have the proper tools to cope with it, so he turned to drugs and alcohol. When Michael Siva got caught up in selling drugs, it wasn’t an odd sight for him to see his father at spots notorious for users.

Although Peyton Sr. didn’t live with his children, they were familiar with his pattern of drifting into bouts of deep depression, when he would talk about ending his life. During one such episode he had a gun.

Peyton Jr., barely a teenager, borrowed the keys to his brother’s car and went looking for his father. No one knows what would have happened if he hadn’t found him.

“He was telling me he wanted me to be a part of his life. He kept telling me, ‘I need you, Dad,’ ” said elder Siva, now a fixture at U of L games. “Just seeing his face just blew me away. I just thank God for putting this kid in my life. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I would be now.”

The young Siva saw the pain from his father’s battles. He witnessed his father, brother and sister each spend some time in jail. He easily could have followed in their footsteps, but he did not want that life for himself.

“It definitely made me who I am, just because seeing what they went through changed my life,” he said. “I know what not to do. I’m not curious to try drugs or anything because I’ve seen what it does to people, and I’m just not influenced by that type of thing.”

Besides, he knows it would break his mother’s heart, and he isn’t about to do that after the sacrifices she made for him.

Gaston said she always believed her youngest son would do great things from the first time she rocked him in her arms and whispered, “My little superstar.”

But Gaston, then a single mother of three, needed to find something better than working at a grocery story. She had begun taking classes at Seattle Central Community College through a YMCA program while pregnant with Peyton. When daycare was closed and she couldn’t find a babysitter, she took her kids to class with her.

Sometimes she’d keep Peyton in her lap. At other times he’d be in a stroller, with her daughter assigned the task of holding his bottle so Momma could take notes. Another woman in the class complained about the childrens’ presence.

“I looked at her and said, ‘I’m going to sit here with my kids whether you like it or not,’ ” Gaston recalled. “You just did what you had to do. You made it happen. It was very hard.”

Gaston transferred her credits to the University of Washington and graduated in five years with a degree in sociology, which is Siva’s major at U of L. Now 43, she works for King County Superior Court and is a probation counselor for its drug program.

When Siva returns home to Seattle, it’s not unusual for him to go back to Franklin High School or the Boys and Girls Club — where he first honed his basketball skills — and take kids out to lunch.

He feels a connection to those youngsters who battle the gravitational pull of street life on a regular basis. He’s seen firsthand what it’s like.

“I hear it all the time that you can’t save everybody,” Siva said. “But it doesn’t hurt to try.”

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