Let’s be honest. Peyton Siva didn’t have a great junior season. At least not until he seemed to fully recover from a nagging early-season ankle injury that prevented him from being 100% for most of the year. And we all saw what happened after the clunkers against South Florida and Syracuse. All he did was dominate Madison Square Garden for four nights en route to being named Big East Tournament MVP as he led Louisville to their second title in four years. He also carried that solid play over to the NCAA Tournament as he helped guide the Cards to a miraculous Final Four run. During the Big East regular season he averaged 8.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 3.4 turnovers a game. Hardly eye-popping, to say the least. However, after becoming fully healthy and by somehow blocking-out some of the criticism and negativity surrounding the program and his play in particular, he managed to average 14 points, 6.3 rebounds and nearly 6 assists per game during that Big East Tournament run. It was a tale of two seasons for Siva: one plagued by injury, naysayers and unfulfilled expectations, the other fueled by a new-found confidence and profound leadership that guided the team to the brink of the ultimate prize. We all know how good of a player Siva can be. He came to Louisville as a McDonald’s All-American and, after a promising sophomore season, big things were expected of him. He took the criticism hard and personally last year, and there’s no doubt that he lost some confidence and let that negativity seep into his game. So with all that said, what are we to expect this year from the precocious Seattle native? The battle-tested veteran that found a way to rise above the hardships late last year? Or the kid who still worries too much about outside influences and lets it affect his play?
I think it’s important to note that Siva is one of the best kids you’ll ever meet. His teammates and the coaching staff will tell you the same thing. I’m no beat writer and I don’t pretend to be some super-connected guy that sits on press row every night and goes into the locker room after each game and knows Siva well. Nor do I have any desire to be that guy. That said, we’ve had the chance to cover Siva a few times in person and we’ve had him on our radio show, as well. He’s one of the most bright, affable people you’ll ever meet. Just a great, humble kid from a tough background (which is a sensational story itself). And part of his charm is that he’s a sensitive kid. Not sensitive like he cries during date-night flicks or can’t stand those animal cruelty commercials with Sarah McLachlan. I mean sensitive as in he cares what people think about him. And he has a memory that constantly reflects on things that have just happened. Whether it be something in his personal life, or the two three-pointers he just missed on a previous possession during a game. He cares. And sometimes he lets it affect his play. Rick Pitino has often spoke about his confidence – or lack thereof – after missed shots and turnovers being one of the only issues holding him back from being one of the best players in the nation. People speculate about other sports and just how mental they can be (golf comes to mind), but for anyone who’s ever played at a remotely high level, basketball is certainly in that category. There are very few Russ Smith’s out there. Meaning, guys that have zero conscious and always feel like the next shot is going in. Most players have triggers in their brain that are built off making positive things happen, and when you stop seeing those things happen, it’s easy to start free-falling in the wrong direction. Confidence is a hell of a drug, and it can literally make or break a player.
I worry that expectations could be the one thing that ultimately holds Siva back from reaching his true potential. Expectations from overly-critical fans and media members. Last year he was tabbed by a lot of preseason publications to be one of the few guys that had monster, breakout seasons. Fans expected great things from him, and that type of pressure is hard on a player. Couple it with an injury, and it’s nearly impossible to handle. And you saw the results that pressure had on him during the regular season. Fast-forward to this year and expectations, after his late-season heroics, are at an all-time high. He was picked today by Big East coaches as the preseason player of the year. Those are awfully big shoes to fill for any player – let alone one with a psyche as delicate as Siva’s. Couple the individual expectations with the fact that Louisville was picked to unanimously win the Big East regular season championship and is a trendy pick to win the National Championship by many pundits, and the pressure mounts to even greater heights. It’s a wide load and a cumbersome burden for a small guy to carry on his back. What he has to do this year, not only to appease the rabid Louisville fan base, but way more importantly, himself, is to somehow learn how to block out the outside world all together. I know Pitino preaches this all the time, but I don’t think it happens. So, I’m talking full-on tunnel vision. No facebook, no Twitter (I know they’re technically banned from having accounts, but don’t even peak at it or read it), no newspapers, no blogs, no “so-called friends” that are looking after your best interests. Instead, only pay attention to your family, teammates and coaching staff. Those are the ones that are truly after your best interest. Let the other stuff bounce right off of you and the results on the floor will take care of themselves.
There’s no better person on this Louisville team than Peyton Siva. Here’s to hoping he finds the strength to block the rest of us completely out of his mind.