LOUISVILLE — Louisville guard Peyton Siva gives Coach Rick Pitino something he hasn't had before with the Cardinals — a pure point guard.
Coaches expect Siva, entering his junior season, to boost his assist numbers this year from 5.2 per game, even though that figure proved to be 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.
Andre McGee, a former Louisville guard now on Pitino's staff as a program assistant, told The Courier-Journal that Siva is starting to understand what makes him look good on the court
"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," McGee said.
Pitino has been through a litany of guards since arriving on campus — Reece Gaines, Taquan Dean, Brandon Jenkins, McGee and Edgar Sosa. Each had 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, who also averaged 9.9 points and 3.1 rebounds, inherited the starting point guard role from Sosa, but struggled as he figured out how Pitino wanted his offense run.
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."
McGee didn't see anything unusual in Siva's early problems, calling them 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.
"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."
Siva used that first year at Louisville 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. McGee said that speed killed Siva's game, forcing him to play out of control at times, resulting in turnovers and foul trouble.
"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," McGee said. "Nobody in the country has the foot speed that can keep up with him."
Pitino saw Siva's growth, particularly against Connecticut, the eventual national champions.
"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."