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New moment in Arizona Wildcats basketball history: The Hug

Kevin Parrom

Coach Sean Miller hugs forward Kevin Parrom as he leaves the game in the final minute. Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

Certain parts of Arizona basketball history don’t need much explanation. The Block. The Streak. McClutch. Simon says championship.

Add one to Arizona’s archive: The Hug.

We knew Kevin Parrom’s entrance into Arizona’s season would be emotional, and it was. He entered Sunday’s game against Ball State with 15:24 to go after the first media timeout.

“Now on the court …” the public address announcer began.

And fans at McKale Center began to notice. There he was. On the court. Ahead of any schedule we had heard. Kevin Parrom was back after rehabbing lower right leg injuries suffered in a Sept. 24 shooting when he was home in The Bronx, N.Y., to visit his ill mother.

The crowd rose to a standing ovation.

It was a nice moment.

But it was the exit that everyone will remember.

After Parrom played longer and better than anyone could have anticipated, coach Sean Miller took him from the game with 32.7 seconds left in what would be a 73-63 victory, greeting the junior before he reached the sideline.

They hugged. Not briefly. Not weakly. They hugged.

In that hug, in that moment, was the acknowledgement of the road Parrom has traveled in recent months — from the shooting, to losing his mother last month to cancer, to the death of his grandmother this summer.

“He’s just such a warrior, such a great kid, a kid who’s been through more than any person ever deserves to be through,” Miller said. “We’re so much a better team with Kevin, but that’s not even the story. …

“You go through what Kevin went through, nobody has any idea how much time we spent together, talking, meeting, me trying to be hard on him knowing it’s almost unfair for me to be hard on him, but that is what is required for him to continue to forge ahead.

“I’m just grateful that he is on our team. It’s just really awesome to see him out there.”

In coach-player terms, Parrom and Miller go way back. Miller and assistant coach Book Richardson, who has deep basketball ties to New York City, recruited Parrom to Xavier. When they left to restore Arizona in the spring of 2009, Parrom took his commitment to Tucson.

“He’s more than a coach to me,” Parrom said of Miller.

Parrom said, in his mind, he was hoping to return Thursday when the Wildcats play St. John’s in Madison Square Garden as part of the 2K Sports Classic in his hometown. He only returned to full-speed practice on Friday.

He said it was a last-minute decision to play against Ball State, and it was a good one. Parrom played 18 minutes, with six points, four rebounds and two assists.

He scored his first point on a free throw with 4:40 left in the first half. He took a charge with 14:18 to go in the second half. He fired in a 3-pointer with 12:12 to play to rally the Cats within a point and cap a 15-5 run.

Kevin Parrom

Kevin Parrom's ankle is braced and taped before the game; he suffered nerve and tissue damage in his lower right leg after the Sept. 24 shooting. Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

“I was just going to go out there and see what I could do,” Parrom said. “I think I did OK. I’m not there yet. I’m getting back day-by-day.”

As he gets further back, Parrom is expected to deliver solid numbers across the box score. He averaged 7.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and incalculable toughness last season. He made 41.8 percent of his 3-pointers.

He makes Arizona bigger on the wing. He adds energy.

He means this much: UA outscored Ball State by 22 points in the 18 minutes he was on the court.

Maybe it wasn’t all him — the Wildcats’ defense certainly clamped down in the second half — but that stat is still telling.

Parrom went in and out of the game five times. Arizona outscored the Cardinals 8-2 in his second stretch, 9-3 in his third, 10-4 in his fourth and 13-3 in his final appearance.

“We wouldn’t have won the game without him,” Miller said.

Beyond the stats, beyond the win, just playing again was what Parrom needed. For a while, his basketball future was not certain. He could barely walk for a couple of weeks after the shooting, Miller said. Would he play this season? Would he play again?

It took only three games for Parrom to stand again in McKale Center, to see the fans rise to their feet.

“It was one of the reasons I came here, because of the family setting in Tucson. I love it,” Parrom said. “It was good to feel the crowd stand up for me. I really needed that.”

And, of course, “That hug was just great.”

Want to make sure you don’t miss anything? Follow the football and basketball action at the new AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook.

Related: Sean Miller delivers message to freshman point guard Josiah Turner via the bench

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