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Peyton Siva: Bridge Player

Andy Lyons

As we prepare to officially send both Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva off to some lucky new fan bases, I think it's only right that we look back at some of our fondest memories of both. We continue with CardsFan922's Senior Night tribute to Siva.

Here are 5,000 words about Peyton Siva that evoke the most nostalgia in the author:











It's not much of a stretch to say that a detailed retrospective of Siva's career at Louisville could easily exceed 5,000 words. I tried to pick a couple good Villen videos that really summed up Siva's career, but there were too many. Really, everything so far in Siva's career is summed up in one video, and you know what that is:

Siva is also known for his dad and what he went through before ever stepping foot on campus. Rick Pitino talks about Siva being the best person he's coached other than Billy Donovan, and the stuff that Siva went through makes his positive attitude and character even more impressive:

I'm clearly stalling at this point. I don't want to write a goodbye post to Peyton Siva because I can't really imagine Louisville basketball without him.

Peyton Siva has been the most important player for us the past 2 seasons, and this year the difference between us having a good tournament and having a great one starts with how well Siva plays going forward. As a distributor, as a shooter and as a defender, he is so important to our team that we can win when he doesn't play well (or doesn't play at all: see Syracuse and Florida '12) but when he is playing well, we are a heavy favorite in almost every game we play.

It's hard to try to put a career in perspective when it is not really close to being finished, and his is not: most of our memories of players comes more from what they've done in March and April than in December and January, so there are lots of iconic pictures and classic Villen videos left for Peyton Siva we all hope. But regardless of the outcome of this season, I think Siva will be remembered as one of the most important players of the Pitino era, if not the most important. That's a big statement, but I have put some thought into it and wish to defend it.

First, though, the context. Pitino's tenure can sorta be broken up into three big segments: 1) No one-and-done rule; 2) the early years of one-and-done; 3) the other side of the bridge. When Pitino first showed up, Louisville became a hot name in recruiting, and had commitments from some high profile high school players like Sebastian Telfair, James Lang, Amir Johnson (all NBA draft picks) and even rumors of interest from LeBron James himself. As rebuilding jobs go, what Pitino did in the first 2-3 years without NBA talent is remarkable. Yes, early tournament losses in 2003 and 2004 (Pitino's 2nd and 3rd seasons) were frustrating for different reasons, but with how bad the last few years of Denny's tenure was and with a new generation of basketball players being born in the mid-to-late 1980s, a quick comeback and annual tournament appearances were no sure things.

Pitino had success in those years with less talent because the a lot of talent was skipping straight to the NBA. That changed in 2006, the first class that had to come to college for a year before being drafted, and Pitino seemingly adjusted with it, landing 2 guys who would have been sure draft picks out of high school in Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter. However, Pitino was no longer getting the top 10 guys year in year out, defined then and now by McDonald's All-Americans, and 2 Elite 8's were sandwiched between an NIT and 2 first weekend exits had fans restless.

The 2 Elite 8 teams were glimpses into what would become Pitino's signature: teams that played good, tough defense, pressed, substituted liberally, had no true superstars but had talent, and overall won with team effort. But fandom during those years were tough. Other than David Padgett and Preston(!) , fans had intense frustrations with just about every player on back to back Elite 8 teams: Earl Clark never met his potential, Caracter was a headcase, Sosa wasn't a point guard, JDP was no Mashburn, T-Will couldn't shoot and was too cocky, Jerry Smith wasn't athletic enough and wasn't consistent enough from 3, Swopshire was a waste of a scholarship, McGee wasn't good enough, etc. etc. The 2009 team, for being a 1 seed and Big East champions and giving us the West Virginia game, isn't remembered as fondly as other teams with worse resumes as time has passed. Sure, we liked the wins, but the team chemistry and relationship with the fans just seems wanting after what we've had these past few years.

That's because the feeling around UofL basketball has just been different the past 3 years than it was during the early years of the one-and-done era. Maybe it was that we thought our guys would have been one-and-dones and therefore should have been better than they were. Maybe it was frustration that the top guys just weren't coming here (except for Samardo, who got more undeserved scorn than anyone but maybe Edgar Sosa) that we took it out on the guys who ended up here.

Things are different now, and I think it's because of the 2010-11 team. Pitino famously called that season a bridge year, lowering expectations and referring to help being on the way (meaning Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Angel Nunez and Zach Price). That team shoud have had some superstar freshman, but Pitino struck out on all of them, ending up with 2-star Russ Smith, walk-on Elisha Justice and a raw African center. The anti-Pitino talk grew louder.

But then something amazing happened: that team became the first team that I remember talking about "loving" since the 2005 Final Four team, and only one or two teams before that (the 1997 Wheat-Sims team comes to mind...but not many other). There was much discussion about this at the time, too. It wasn't just the new arena, the positive feelings around our team were real.

As it has turned out, the 2009-2010 season was really the bridge year. That's not to disparage that team, which, as transition years often are, was in a tough spot. That team had 2 guys, Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, from the first one-and-done class. It had a junior class widely considered Pitino's worst recruiting class both at the time and in terms of star ratings, and a sophomore class with exactly two players from each world: highly talented but ultimately frustrating McDonalds All-American/NBA draft level guys in Samardo and TJ, and "are they Louisville caliber?!!?" 4 year guys who worked hard, never caused problems and were team first players in Jared Swopshire and Kyle Kuric.

And then there was the freshman class. Here's what Rick said about them on signing day, 2009:

"One of the points of emphasis we have had the last few years is that we really wanted to not only bring in outstanding basketball players but bring in the type of character that is not only going to help us on the court but certainly as far as future recruits down the road.

"All four young men have terrific potential to be outstanding college basketball players and they are also terrific young men who have a strong desire for education as well."

"This class falls in line with what we want to build character wise as well as being passionate about the and want to reach their potential."

"I couldn't tell you which one will be the best player by the time their senior year comes around," Pitino added. "It's an outstanding class. They're all very well coached and play on good high school teams and they're all championship driven."

They say generals always fight the last war, and you can see Pitino's recruiting is going against the wars he had with the players from the 2006-2009 teams. So this became the model Pitino developed: surround a couple one-and-done, McDonald's All-American talent with 4-year, team-first, win-first, character players. The first couple years of his tenure he had mostly the latter. The next few years he tried with mostly the former, and struck out on a number of guys who would have fit that description, missing out on other talented players in the process. It has only been the last couple years that he has found his balance.

And the player that spans both sides of the bridge, who defines what Louisville basketball means these days and will mean for the next segment of Pitino's tenure here is Peyton Siva. He's a McDonald's All-American who stayed 4 years. He's a lightning rod whose smallest mistakes and every missed shot draws groans from the crowd. I still hear people say Sosa was better (apparently forgetting all the shit they gave him for 4 years) and there's a woman who sits behind me who says "Come on Siva" with a distinct twang every time he does something wrong, and then is silent when he does something good.

I've never understood the Siva angst and I guess I never will. He plays hard, is never in any trouble, always has a good attitude and always makes you proud of the University. And he is really, really good at basketball. He's never been told to transfer, or given an application for a fast food restaurant, or suspended for a game to send a message. He's never loafed or taken a play off, he's always hustled and always played hard. His style of basketball - getting to the rim and scoring or creating, fast breaks, pressure defense - he is the archetype Pitino player, minus the consistent 3 point shooting. He willingly committed to a school knowing he'd have to sit behind a senior starter at his position. How many McDonald's All-Americans do that?

He would fit on teams in every other Pitino segment: the point guard the 2003-2005 teams never had, the effort and energy guy who couldn't shoot great but didn't need to, who would willingly split minutes and play his heart out when he was on the floor with the 2006-2009 teams. And going forward, we will compare Chris Jones and Quinten Snider and whoever comes next to Peyton Siva, and they will have a tough time trying to achieve the level he has established, both on and off the court.

The thing that has been the most enjoyable about these last few years is how little it resembles the 2006-2009 teams in terms of fan on player frustration. Sure, Chane's hands and power dribble are things we wish we didn't have to talk about, and he's not exactly the most humble guy, but Chane is almost universally loved in part because his swagger has a playful, winking tone and because he has the talent to back it up. And because even when he is out of the game or having a bad game, he's the first guy up to greet people as they head towards the bench for a timeout. The closest we had to a 2006-09 player was Luke Hancock, and even that was so mild that it was more #haterzzzz than actual hate. And now, well, Luke has become Luuuuuuke. And the only thing that is really #forthehaterzzzz anymore is the team's uniforms. This is truly the Era of Goode Feelings, and I never want to go back.

I never want to go back to where we were during the one-and-done segment. And I think Siva will be the last player who gets that sort of treatment from fans. But the outpouring of emotion that will happen over the next few days will show that he is also as beloved as anyone who has played for Pitino, both by the coach and by the fans. Peyton Siva is the bridge player whose contributions and career have left an indelible impression on Louisville basketball and who more than any single player made Louisville basketball into what it will be going forward.

The next segment of the Pitino era should be the first where every player and every team has the relationship with the fans and the coach like the last 3 years. We'll never replace Siva or Gorgui or Preston! or Kuric or Russ, but we'll have new guys who become fan favorites, maybe even a whole team full like this squad has turned into. And we'll hopefully never have the angst and short fuses like we did with Sosa and Earl and Siva and even T-Will and McGee and JDP and Caracter and almost everyone else on those teams had to deal with at times.

I feel more confident now than I did when I started this: Peyton Siva is Louisville basketball in the Pitino era. He represents the past, present and the future of the program. He is the bridge player: talented, highly recruited, McDonald's All-American, but team-first, who cares more about winning than for his own stats. He is a high character individual who represent the school and city off the court just as good if not better than on it.

Thank you Peyton Siva.