ATLANTA -- Point guard Peyton Siva has been at Louisville for only four seasons -- but he knows that for some, it probably feels like seven or eight. That's what happens when you're on national TV every week, manning the backcourt for one of the top college basketball programs in the country.
And that's what makes Monday so special.
This is it. Win or lose, outstanding outing or average output, the 9:23 p.m. ET tipoff against Michigan will mark the finale of a roller-coaster career that has seen the 5-foot-11 ball handler pay his reserve dues as a freshman, then start every game he has played in since, winning 109 contests, dishing out 772 assists and competing in two Final Fours.
Win or lose, Siva's final game will come on college basketball's biggest stage, where he'll try to lead Louisville to its third national title. Could you write a better potential ending for a player who has been this team's emotional leader for so long?
"You start dreaming about winning a national championship when you're little," Siva said Sunday. "You watch ‘One Shining Moment' and all those great college teams win. And it really hit me last night, ‘We're going to be playing in a national championship [game].'
"Every year I've been here, you look back and say, ‘Ah, we could have won it this year. Ah, we could have won it this year.' Last year, we came so close, we made it to the Final Four. And this year, we actually have a chance. God blessed us with an opportunity that very few people get a chance at.”
The Cardinals have a chance because Siva has led them to it. He's not Louisville's most dynamic personality (that would be junior backcourt mate Russ Smith), most talented player (center Gorgui Dieng is a potential first-round draft pick) or most famous face (that, now, would be sophomore Kevin Ware, who became instantly recognizable after he broke his leg in horrendous fashion last weekend).
"But Peyton is the glue for all of us," freshman forward Montrezl Harrell said, "the one who puts us all together.”
It shouldn't be surprising, because Siva's personality has always been one of helping, of meshing, of including.
The story of his formative years has been told and retold, but in case you missed it: At age 13, growing up in Seattle's rough Central District, Siva's father, Peyton Sr., had once again disappeared, somewhere, in a haze of alcohol and drug addiction. Siva grabbed the keys to his older brother's car and went looking for him -- and what he found was his dad with a gun, contemplating suicide.
Somehow, Siva talked him out of it. Peyton Sr. got clean, and a decade later, will be cheering his son from the stands in the national title game.
It was an early example of how Siva inspires -- both on and off the court.
"He is just a great leader," said Dieng. "You never see him get too high or too low; he's always calm, and we feed off of that.”
Indeed, point guards have always been key to coach Rick Pitino's high-octane attack. And it has been no different for Siva, responsible for pushing the pace with the ball, while pushing foes out of their comfort zone in the Cardinals' maddening, turnover-inducing press.
He's averaging a team-leading 2.2 steals per game to go along with 9.8 points and 5.7 assists, and Pitino refers to the ball handler as the "coach.”
"Peyton listens to every little thing," Pitino said. "He understands.”
It wasn't always that way. Siva came to Louisville as more of a combo guard and it took him time to learn defense. As a sophomore, it all started to come together when his 69 steals were eighth best in a single season at Louisville.
Then after a rough start to his junior season -- when Pitino had to pull the guard aside and advise him to cut back on off-the-court distractions and hone his concentration -- he was named the most outstanding player of the 2012 Big East tournament after averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.8 steals in his four games.
His shooting hasn't been as consistent this season; in five NCAA tournament games, he's made only 36.6 percent of his shots, including going 1-for-12 on 3-pointers. But his experience, his speed, his focus and his ability to focus his team has been and will be key.
"Playing against Russ Smith and Peyton Siva is going to be a challenge for Tim [Hardaway Jr.] and I," Michigan guard Trey Burke said, "a challenge we probably haven't seen all year with their pressure and their capability of penetrating.”
Siva, too, knows the guard matchup will be key, but emphasizes team performance over any individual ones.
It's the mindset you'd expect from a point guard who has been at Louisville for four -- or is it seven or eight? -- years.
"For me it's been a great run, long journey, a lot of ups and downs," Siva said. "I wouldn't trade it for the world. Every day I treat it like it was my last game. Tomorrow, it definitely is. It would be great to out on a win.”