Peyton Place in Berlin: Former NCAA champ Peyton Siva discusses basketball and life under coaching legends Rick Pitino and Aito Reneses

Feb 6, 2013; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino discusses strategy with guard Peyton Siva (left) during the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Louisville Cardinals defeat the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 68-48. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

TalkBasket.net looks into ex-Louisville standout Peyton Siva’s trajectory, from his years with the Louisville Cardinals and his brief NBA stint with the Pistons to Europe’s premier basketball competition.

It may have taken more than three years of overseas basketball for Peyton Siva to be able to make his Euroleague debut with Alba Berlin, but once he got started, the 29-year-old guard had no problem adapting to a higher level. Despite having played only 13 out of the German side’s total 20 games, Siva has made a streak of great performances, most notably in Alba’s road wins against Olympiacos Piraeus and Red Star Belgrade. The common denominator would be what Siva himself calls a “hectic crowd”, since both Greeks and Serbian fans are keen supporters of their teams.

Nevertheless, things in life always come with a price and that’s the case with the 2013 NCAA champion with the Louisville Cardinals. Siva had to talk his father out of suicide and also keep his family together, with the help of his mother. Leading Louisville to two Final Fours and the title in his senior season gave him the chance to establish a close relationship with Rick Pitino, his coach at the time and now at the helm of Greek giants Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. The Seattle-born point guard was drafted by the Detroit Pistons, who selected him with the 56th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, but he never really caught on in the NBA.

Since 2016, he’s stationed in Berlin, being coached by European basketball great Aito Garcia Reneses who, as Siva admits in his interview with TalkBasket.net, reminds him greatly of his friend and mentor Rick Pitino. Here is what Peyton Siva said, right after Alba Berlin’s road win over Olympiacos in Greece.

Q: This was your first time in Greece. How did you experience the game?

A: It was cool, man. I really enjoyed playing in front of these fans. They were loud, crazy, everything you hear about. So, it was really fun to get out here in Greece and play in front of this spectacular and hectic crowd. I’ve heard a lot of stories about them. The game was tough. Luckily, I think that we caught them in the changing of coaches, which is very tough for a team. We tried to take advantage of that and our guys did a great job just competing on the glass and making shots that helped us out. It was a very good road win for us.

Q: What’s in store for Alba Berlin this year?

A: Hopefully, we can stay healthy and now that we finally got everybody back, we’ve found a good rhythm. We should continue step by step to try to get wins and compete.

Q: How are you feeling after the injuries that held you back?

A: I’ve been injured throughout the whole year and right now I’m trying to get back in shape. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying to do whatever I can to help the team win: bring a little bit of energy off the bench, give Martin Hermannsson a breather, get everyone involved and find my rhythm.

Q: You’ve been playing with Alba Berlin since 2016 and last summer you signed for two more years. What’s keeping you in Berlin?

A: I really like it. It’s a great city for me and my family. Obviously, Aito coming back influenced me to come back too. I also had the chance to achieve my goal to play in the Euroleague. I’ve always wanted to play there and prove myself and I feel like Alba was the best spot that I could do that.

Q: You won the NCAA championship with Louisville, then you had a chance in the NBA. Was there anything that went wrong?

A: No, it just didn’t work out in the NBA. We had a lot of management changing, but now I have the chance to play at the highest level in Europe and I enjoy it. Some players have the chance to play in the NBA, some don’t. So, I made the best out of it and I continue to work as if I’m trying to make the NBA, but I’m very happy to be playing in Euroleague against the best teams in Europe. I wanted to help Alba get there. It was huge.

Q: What do you like the most about playing the Euroleague?

A: I love the competition. I get to play against guys that I played against in college, guys like Mike James, Shane Larkin, some Euroleague legends like Spanoulis and stars like Campazzo. You always want to play against the best in Europe and being able to do that is pretty fun.

Q: Is really the Euroleague like college basketball, but with 30-year-olds, as Rick Pitino has described it?

A: No, I think it’s a lot tougher than college basketball. The guys are more talented, obviously more experienced, but there are also similarities as far as the defensive toughness and packing the paint. So, I agree with him there.

Q: Despite not being able to meet with Pitino in Athens, do you speak with him regularly?

A: We have a great relationship. I didn’t meet him while in Greece because I was told that they live on the other side of Athens and I don’t know the dynamics. Hopefully, when they come to Berlin, we’ll get the chance to meet and talk. We keep in touch. I congratulated him on his coming back to Europe. We talked over the summer. He explained to me the situation about whether he was going to stay with Panathinaikos or not. He told me that he liked it. He really enjoyed Greece a lot. I like communicating with him and we talk a lot about life outside of basketball.

Q: Were you surprised at him taking over Panathinaikos last year?

A: I was very surprised but I knew he was going to coach somehow. That’s in his blood. He can’t sit down and relax for too long. He has to coach something. He needs to be doing something and I knew he was going to go coach somewhere.

Q: You had some family problems in the past, especially with your parents. How did you manage to handle the situation and to what extent has all this led up to you being the man you are right now?

A: I think my faith helped me out a lot, just trusting in God with anything I had to do. Luckily now, I have a great relationship with my father. We talk all the time, he texts me every day. My mom was the strong one because she kept us tacked, while my brother and sister always watch out for her.

Q: Is it true that Pitino advised you to take a relationship sabbatical in order to get your mind off basketball and perform better at Louisville ?

A: Yeah, he told me a lot back in college. Mostly his main story was to stay focused on basketball at the time. He kind of said it half-jokingly, but he meant it a lot. I eventually married my girlfriend after graduating. I stayed focused and obviously it worked out because we won the championship.

Q: What’s the one Pitino advice that you hold on to?

A: Never get too high or too low. We live in a microwave society. The fans can hate you in one second and love you the next. That was the key during the NCAA tournament. I was having kind of a down year and he was telling me that the fans wouldn’t remember anything once I started playing well.

Q: Does Aito Garcia Reneses remind you of Pitino in the way he’s mentoring young and inexperienced athletes at the Euroleague level?

A: Yes, in the sense that coach Pitino treated everybody the same, whether you were a walk-on or the star player. Aito does the same. He treats the young guy just the way he’s treating Luke Sikma. It shows the coaching ability. He’s not scared to apologise out there at any time and that just shows his confidence and his ability to coach and develop players.

Q: He’s a coaching legend in Europe, despite not having won the Euroleague. One of his most famous sayings is that winning is not everything. Does this apply to Alba Berlin as well?

A: Winning the Euroleague is very tough, but hopefully we can try before he goes out. He always tells us to get better step by step and not to worry too much about winning. Obviously, our goals are to win the German League and Cup, but also to get better in the Euroleague.

Q: Would you say that Alba is an anxious free team this year?

A: Yeah, we’re playing with a free spirit. That’s what we got to do. Now we just have to continue to have fun and to improve. The two road wins in Greece is something big for us.

Advertisement