Kevin Parrom leaned back in a chair and smiled. Was it relief? Happiness? Anticipation?
It was just nice to see.
“I’m 100 percent,” the senior wing said at Arizona Wildcats basketball media day Wednesday.
Out of all the great storylines with this UA basketball team — from legitimate great expectations, to the maturity and stability of Xavier transfer point guard Mark Lyons, to the ascension of senior forward Solomon Hill into a potential elite college player, to the arrival of four fab freshmen, including three post players — the one that stands above the rest is the possibility of Kevin Parrom having a happy ending.
“Looking at him right now, he’s strong physically and he’s healthy,” said coach Sean Miller. “He’s a senior that is probably as hungry as any in college basketball.”
“I’m starving,” Parrom said.
The story is well-known. He lost his grandmother the summer before his junior season; he was shot in the right leg while home in The Bronx visiting his ailing mother in late September; and then Parrom lost her to cancer a few weeks later.
While not fully recovered from his shooting injuries — he was “fortunate to be alive,” Miller said at the time — he returned for the team’s third game. He entered to a standing ovation at McKale Center and exited to bear hugs from Miller and assistant coach Book Richardson.
The emotional return soon gave way to the reality that it was going to take a while to get back to the player he could be. His contributions were often limited for the next two months. Just when he began to be an energetic impact player again, he suffered a broken bone in his right foot against Washington on Jan. 28, wiping out the rest of his season.
Yes, he’s a bit hungry for his senior year.
Parrom stayed in Tucson through the offseason. He didn’t return to New York. He, as well as some of his teammates, put up more than 20,000 shots at Richard Jefferson Gym, firing up basketballs from all distances.
“I was just so focused. There was no need to go home,” Parrom said. “I just wanted to stay here and get back to where I was.”
Where he was as a sophomore, he was a key bench player who averaged 7.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 20 minutes per game. He shot 41.8 percent from 3-point range.
Last season, Miller said, Parrom “wasn’t anywhere near the player he was as a sophomore.”
Miller, on more than one occasion, has expressed regret about not redshirting Parrom last season. That would have been the wise thing from a basketball point of view. But there was so much more to consider. Basketball was part of Parrom’s emotional recovery.
“Part of me felt like I needed to redshirt, but I didn’t feel I had a choice with everything that was going on,” Parrom said.
“I had to stay active to get through what I was going through. I felt like I needed to play basketball and continue what I did best.”
What he does best is a little bit of everything. At 6-6, 220, he combines feisty defense with the ability to grab a defensive rebound and lead the break, with a 3-point shot that might be the best on the team, Miller said.
Arizona’s backcourt is deep and competition for playing time will be fierce. Parrom gives Arizona a bigger two-guard than returning starter Nick Johnson, and he’ll also handle the small forward position when starter Solomon Hill is out of the game, giving Miller the luxury of replacing a senior with a senior.
“I’m looking for him to be a major contributor to our team,” Miller said.
“He’s worked really hard across the board to have this last year be one of meaning for him. I think all of our players can feed off that, and that is where you see his leadership ability — by the example he has set and continues to set.”
Parrom has been healthy for a full season only once at Arizona. He played in just 17 games as a freshman because of foot problems. Last season tested him in all manner of ways that no one would want to be tested. He played in 20 games, none at full strength.
You would be hard-pressed to find anybody in college basketball more deserving of a happy ending.
“My No. 1 goal is to just stay healthy for the entire season,” he said. “I know if I stay healthy, everything is going to take care of itself.”