Caleb Gervin has watched Louisville basketball through older, more mature eyes. Sure, the Cardinals played in the NCAA tournament and Rick Pitino is their coach. And he knows nothing can replicate the atmosphere of Freedom Hall.
But there isn't any longing for what once was. These are days that Gervin says are worth much more. And they are far from the glare of NCAA Division I basketball.
"Some of the mistakes I made at Louisville, I left those there," he says quietly, yet with conviction. "I got a second chance. The mistakes I made are behind me."
Gervin is playing in a national tournament this week. The senior is the leading player for Azusa Pacific (27-6), which meets John Brown (Ark.) University (22-10) Wednesday night in the first round of the 32-team National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament at Kansas City, Mo.
The last name alone ensured his career would be under a microscope. He is the nephew of NBA Hall of Famer George Gervin. Much like his famous uncle, Caleb is known for scoring.
In four years at Cathedral City High he totaled 2,647 points, fifth-most in Southern Section history. "When we're recruiting someone from Southern California, they know Caleb goes to school here, they know the name, they know where he played [in high school], and they know he signed with Louisville," Azusa Pacific Coach Bill Odell said. "Everyone knew who he was."
With his reputation firmly entrenched, Gervin was sought by schools across the nation. USC and Pepperdine afforded him the choice to stay close to home and play in front of family and friends.
But legendary Louisville Coach Denny Crum came calling and Gervin was hooked immediately.
"There's nothing like it," Gervin said of playing for Louisville. "They're so passionate about basketball. You couldn't walk in the mall after a loss to Kentucky."
As a freshman in 1999-2000, he played in 20 games as the backup point guard. But only weeks after the season he and teammate Quintin Bailey were suspended for the next.
The usual things were said in a statement released by the school: Bailey said, "I put myself in a situation that has affected my life and now I will have to pay for it."
Gervin was more to the point. He revealed the source of his suspension, admitting to the use of marijuana. But it was also by design.
"They gave me the option of what I wanted to say," Gervin said after a recent practice. "I just felt like I owed it to the people who had my back. It was a mistake I made and a mistake I wanted to be out there, so that the chances that it would happen again would be very slim.
"Dealing with the consequences was the hard part."
Gervin turned to his uncle for support, even if it was simply to listen to what he went through. Voted one of the NBA's 50 greatest players, George Gervin had a cocaine addiction in the 1980s.
George Gervin said the way his nephew took responsibility for his actions showed his character.
"The one thing to understand is that you're going to make mistakes, but the key thing is to not continue to make the same ones," George said. "Once you've addressed it, you now know the formula to stay away from that type of situation because you already know the result.
"He's going to be successful in his life whether he plays pro basketball or not."
Caleb Gervin and Bailey both are in the NAIA tournament. Bailey is a senior at Georgetown (Ky.) College, whose team plays Point Loma Nazarene on Wednesday.
Gervin said he considered transferring to another Division I program but didn't want to sit out a season in accordance with NCAA rules. In the NAIA, a transfer becomes eligible immediately.
Odell gauged Gervin's interest in his program but also did some homework on him before landing a rare talent.
"They felt this was a one-time occurrence," Odell said of Louisville officials. "They felt he was a great kid who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Louisville gave him a very, very high recommendation, and this wasn't from the coach. I talked to the compliance officer, the assistant athletic director and they're giving me glowing reports."
Nothing that Gervin has done has led his coach to regret that decision. Gervin was the Golden State Athletic Conference player of the year this season, averaging 19.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists. And he is only seven units short of earning his bachelor's degree in sociology.
Junior forward Brett Michel said the senior has displayed leadership the last three seasons. "I think he had something to prove to people," Michel said. "He could have come here with a big head, but he has no ego. He doesn't even talk about Louisville. All he wants to do is win."
Gervin would like nothing more than to bring the Cougars their first national title. Azusa Pacific has reached a semifinal three times in the last five years.
But even if there is no title celebration, he will leave without regrets.
"Whether we win or lose, I'm happy with the way things went here," he said. "They've welcomed me with open arms. I wouldn't change it for the world.
"As much as I've done for this program, I think it's done more for me."
NAIA Games to Watch
* What: National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics men's tournament.
* Where: Kansas City, Mo.
* When: Wednesday through Tuesday.
* First round: Wednesday, No. 7-seeded Azusa Pacific (27-6) vs. John Brown (Ark.) (22-10), 8:30 p.m. PST; Thursday, No. 6 Concordia (Irvine) (31-4) vs. Martin Methodist (Tenn.) (22-9), 10:30 a.m. PST ; No. 12 Westmont (23-9) vs. Auburn Montgomery (19-9), 7:45 p.m. PST.
* Format: 32-team, single elimination.