The entry-wound scar behind his right knee, now faded to a purplish oval the size of a stretched quarter, is out of Kevin Parrom's line of sight. He can't feel the .22 bullet fragments buried high in his hamstring; he's not even sure how many there are. The scars on his left hand are tiny and white, and as for his surgically repaired foot? "There's barely anything visible there," he says. "I don't think about any of that anymore." The only outward reminder of a harrowing junior year marked by grief, terror and pain is worn on Parrom's left wrist: a pink rubber band printed with the word STRENGTH that his mom, Lisa, used to wear.
Otherwise, Parrom, a 6'6", 220-pound swingman for Arizona, has put that dark and tragic stretch behind him and moved on. "I'm fine now," he says, smiling broadly. "Everything is going great."
How great? The No. 12--ranked Wildcats were tied at week's end for second with UCLA (behind Oregon) in a refreshingly competitive Pac-12. As the first player off the bench, Parrom ranked fourth on the team in points (8.0), rebounds (4.9), assists (2.0) and minutes (22.9) per game. But his stats only hint at the ways he sees cracks and fills them, grabbing the ball after a teammate's game-sealing swat (68--67 over San Diego State); taking the charge that gets an opponent's star in foul trouble (71--54 over Arizona State); hunting down and blocking a fast break layup (80--70 over Oregon State). His fearless competitiveness sometimes gets him into trouble—midway through Arizona's 79--65 win against Washington State on Feb. 2, Parrom was ejected for throwing an elbow—but it is more often a force for good. "Kevin seems to have a healthy measure of self-confidence that rubs off on his team," says Herb Sendek, coach of Arizona State. "Whether it's a big three or a rebound, a big play on defense, he delivers it."
Parrom has been named the Pac-12's Sixth Man of the Week three times and runner-up once by statsheet.com, but these honors don't fully capture his achievements. "Kevin's not just the comeback player of the year, he's the most courageous player," says Wildcats assistant Emanuel (Book) Richardson. "What he went through would have broken a lot of other players."
GROWING UP near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Kevin Parrom carried a basketball with him everywhere he went—on the subway, to the movie theater, on the 10-minute walk between the apartments of his dad, Kenny Parrom, and his mom, Lisa Williams. (The two, who never married, sometimes lived apart, but "we were always a family," says Kenny.) He was 4½ when he joined the weekend program of the New York Gauchos, the AAU club for which he would play through 10th grade. He rarely had a game that wasn't attended by one or more members of his family, including Lisa, who was fiercely devoted to her two sons (Kenny Jr. is 31); Lisa's mother, Edith Williams, known as Coach Edith for her constant reminders to Kevin to "be aggressive and get to the free throw line!"; and Kenny, a former guard at Arizona Western who encouraged his son to develop the versatility of his hero, Oscar Robertson.
Arizona coach Sean Miller, who signed Parrom to Xavier in the fall of 2008, liked that versatility as well as Parrom's physicality and his boldness in big moments. "He isn't nervous in those situations," says Miller. "He has a fearlessness, even a recklessness in how he plays." When Miller was hired by Arizona in April 2009, Parrom reopened his recruiting and followed him to the desert.
Parrom was hampered by homesickness and a stress fracture in his left foot his freshman year but started to blossom as a sophomore in 2010--11, averaging 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in 20.1 minutes. That March the young Wildcats came within a three-point basket of beating eventual champion Connecticut in the Elite Eight. Star Derrick Williams left for the NBA, but '11--12 looked promising, with a top 10 recruiting class coming in and a solid group of veterans returning, including Parrom. "I was getting ready for a breakout season," he says.
Then the first blow: On July 2, 2011, Richardson called the player into his office. Coach Edith had died, of colorectal cancer. Parrom collapsed in a chair and broke into tears. His grandfather Walter Williams had died of cancer the summer before, and Parrom had had a hard time getting over that loss. Watching Parrom sob, Richardson called his wife, Erin, to tell her they might have a guest. "I didn't want him staying by himself," says Richardson.
"No one had told me my grandmother was that sick," Parrom says. "My family had wanted to protect me."
Parrom was also in the dark about the gravity of his mother's health. The summer before, Lisa had discovered a lump in her breast. The prognosis was grim. "I thought she should bring Kevin home that summer, but she wouldn't hear of it," says Lisa's cousin Michelle Jones. "She'd say, 'This is an important summer for Kevin!' She wanted him to pursue his dreams."