But most of the time he was desperate for distraction from his grief. One outlet was his studies; offered extra time to complete his assignments, Parrom declined, telling academic advisor Marisol Quiroz, "I just want things to be normal again." The other was basketball. As his leg started to improve, Miller and his staff put aside thoughts of redshirting him for his junior year. "After all he had been through, we couldn't take away the carrot of playing, too," says Miller.
While practice could be challenging—occasionally a nerve in Parrom's leg would suddenly fire, making him yowl in pain—it was also a relief. "I needed to play ball to get over my mom, my grandmother, my leg," he says.
Seven weeks after the shooting and just four weeks after Lisa's death, Parrom, a fan favorite even under normal circumstances, checked into a Nov. 13, 2011, game against Ball State. In 18 minutes he scored six points, including a critical three-pointer, took a charge, grabbed four rebounds, made two assists—and got two standing ovations.
He wasn't as explosive, mobile or confident as he had been the year before, and sometimes, says Miller, "he was mentally checked out." But Parrom found more strength in his leg every week. By late January of last season his functionality, he says, was around 85%. During a nationally televised home game against Washington he had seven points, three rebounds and two assists in 10 minutes. Then, near the end of the first half, he made a cut and felt a wrenching pain in his right foot. In the training room Kokoskie told Parrom that his fifth metatarsal was broken. Parrom broke down in tears again. "I thought, Why is this happening to me?"
The despair soon gave way to resolve. This is the end of the bad luck, he told himself. On Feb. 3, 2012, Parrom had surgery on his foot, and he soon started another round of rehab. "It wasn't easy," says Kokoskie. "Kevin had to devote himself to living in the training room. And he really worked hard."
Parrom got support from family, friends and the Wildcats. "A lot of people helped me through all this," he says. Eventually he focused on his future the way his mother would have wanted. During the off-season he allowed no interruptions to school and workouts. He didn't go home. When he was named a recipient of the Wilma Rudolph Award, which honors student athletes who have overcome great personal odds, he declined the opportunity to go to Buffalo to receive the honor in person.
Parrom examined the roster and figured out how he could best help the Wildcats: Another top 10 recruiting class was coming in, but the team still needed shooters. Over the summer he tried to sharpen his three-point shot (he was making 36.1% through Sunday), a weapon he'll need to succeed at the pro level. "One big goal is to finish—finish my degree, finish the season—for me, for my mom and grandma, for my family," he says. "I knew if I stayed healthy, everything would take care of itself."
So much is falling into place for Parrom now. Kenny Jr., who was released from prison in November, visited Tucson in late January and finally saw his little brother in action. Last semester was one of Parrom's best academically, and with just two classes left to complete for his degree in social behavior and human understanding, he should breeze to graduation in May. Meanwhile, he's doing an internship with Kokoskie, using his experience with rehab techniques to help his teammates.
Throughout his ordeal there were the expected lessons—life is short; don't take your gifts for granted—and some surprising ones. Until strangers started approaching him recently, Parrom never realized his experience as a member of a family hard-hit by cancer could be of value to others. When people facing the disease in their own families have asked him, "How do you get through it?" he has passed on the message from his mother's pink wristband, telling them, "All you can do is stay strong."
It's what he tries to do every day. He still thinks of Coach Edith every time he goes to the free throw line. And when he has a bad day, he hears his mom in his head: C'mon Kevin, tomorrow is going to be better. "And you know what?" he says. "She's always right."