TUCSON, Ariz. — The flexible purple bracelet gracing Arizona guard Kevin Parrom’s left wrist is at once his mission and his inspiration. It is the bracelet his mother had on when she passed away 51 weeks ago from breast cancer, the disease she held off for three years when doctors gave her one.
On it is a single word: Strength. He wears it every day.
“My mother always had strength, even when things weren’t going well,” Parrom said. “She always finished. I look forward to finishing. That’s the one thing I want to take away from this year.”
The bond remains so strong that Parrom can still feel his mother’s presence.
“If I’m having a bad day, I might hear her say, ‘Don’t worry, Kev, tomorrow is going to be better.’ It’s always helpful to hear her from voice from time to time, especially when things are not going the way I want,” Parrom said.
“I wear it every day to remind myself . . . I see strength on my wrist, and I continue to try to grow. The bad day I had, I try to make the next day better.”
Parrom is back on the floor, healthy, after a year of personal trials that would test the strongest among us. His grandmother and mother passed away in a three-month span last year. While home in New York to visit his mother last September, he was shot in the right leg. A 19-year old was charged in the shooting and is currently awaiting trial on charges including attempted murder. The bullet fragments remain; doctors did not want to risk a delicate surgery.
Parrom, still affected by the gunshot wound, made an emotional return to his Arizona family in a game against Ball State on Nov. 13, receiving a big hug from UA coach Sean Miller and an extended ovation from the McKale Center crowd. Just as he was rounding into form, he suffered a broken foot on Jan. 28 that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
“Looking at him right now, he is strong physically, he is healthy,” Miller said Wednesday at the team’s media day. “He’s a senior that is probably as hungry as any in college basketball, when you consider everything that he has gone through. I’m looking for him to be a major contributor to our team.
“Kevin leads by example, by how badly he wants to win. How badly he wants to do well. He’s worked really hard across the board to have this last year be one of meaning for him. All of our players can feed off of that, and that’s where you can see his leadership ability, by his example that he has set and will continue to set.”
With an abundance of talent at the guard spot, including newcomer Mark Lyons and holdovers Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes, Parrom, 6-feet-6, likely will fill the same instant-energy role he provided as the sixth man on the 30-victory 2010-11 team that came with an open 3-pointer from a berth in the NCAA Final Four.
He averaged 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in 38 games that season, when he was fifth in the Pac-12 with a 41.8 shooting percentage on 3-point attempts. His biggest contribution came in a triple-overtime victory at California, when he had 25 points (13 in the overtimes) and six assists as the UA played through the loss of Derrick Williams to foul trouble for a 107-105 victory. It was the second victory on what had the feel of a season-altering road trip.
“It shows we have a lot of heart,” Parrom said then.
That heart was apparent as last season progressed, before his season-ending broken foot. Parrom had 12 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes at Utah on Jan. 19, making three of UA’s 12 3-pointers. He finished the Rocky Mountain trip with six points and five rebounds at Colorado before scoring 16 points in a home series against the Washington schools. In 74 minutes in those four games, Parrom made 12 of 24 field goal attempts, with 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
Parrom’s commitment to take the next step was apparent when he stayed in Tucson the entire summer. He took 20,000 shots at Richard Jefferson Gym, a manager shagging and feeding him the ball as he worked at all points on the floor, not just behind the 3-point line. It broke down to 600 shots a day, compressed into a 45-minute period.
“The main thing for me this year is to establish myself as the team’s best shooter and try to be consistent with it. I worked on a lot of stuff go get mentally prepared for this year,” said Parrom, who also took summer classes and is on track to graduate in May.
Among the host of new teammates will be an old friend, guard Lyons, who transferred from Xavier after graduating to spend his final year of eligibility with Miller at the UA. Then-freshman Lyons hosted Parrom on a recruiting trip to Xavier, where Miller was in his final season as head coach.
“That’s my roommate and my best friend on the team. Him being around helps me out, and I get to help him,” Lyons said. “When I heard what happened to him, it was sad. I called him, reached out to him to make sure he was OK. I’m just happy to have him right now.”
Parrom: “It’s weird. I started with him, now I’m finishing with him. I’m happy he’s alongside with me.”
Miller said he regretted not being able to redshirt Parrom last year, which would have extended his eligibility through next season. But Parrom does not look at it that way.
“I considered it, but at the end of the day I had so much going on it would have made things worse. I needed something to do throughout the day,” Parrom said.
“I didn’t want to sit and home and dwell on things. I wanted to play regardless of the result. Maybe if you take away one of those things, I maybe would have redshirted. All three of those things happened, and I don’t think anybody would have sat out. I needed to play. I needed to be around the team.”
The team will be the beneficiary this time, Miller believes.
“Kevin leads by example, by how badly he wants to win,” Miller said. “How badly he wants to do well. He’s worked really hard across the board to have this last year be one of meaning for him.
“All of our players can feed off of that, and that’s where you can see his leadership ability, by his example that he has set and will continue to set.”