TUCSON, Ariz. -- Kevin Parrom getting into the game against Ball State was "a last-minute decision." The hug he got from Arizona coach Sean Miller felt like a lifetime in the making.
"It was great," said Parrom, speaking of the hug that came with 32.7 seconds left in what turned out to be Arizona's 73-63 win over Ball State at McKale Center on Sunday. "I look at Coach (Miller), and he's more than a coach to me, obviously."
No. 16 Arizona is now 3-0 overall.
For Miller, hugs usually are reserved for senior moments and picture-perfect times. In Parrom's case, how could Miller not? Not after everything Parrom, a junior, has been through the past couple of months, after being a shooting victim in his native New York just more than seven weeks ago. He was shot just below his right knee and in his left hand while back home visiting his mother, who was battling cancer. She passed away three weeks later.
He's been to practice at close to full-speed just twice, easing back in with a solid rehabilitation schedule.
"We would not have won the game without him," Miller said. "He's such a great kid and a kid who has been through more than any person deserves."
So the hug meant more than anything.
Miller said he's known Parrom longer than any other player on UA's roster, having recruited him while at Xavier. Parrom was headed there before Miller decided to take the Arizona job in 2009.
"He trusted me when we left Xavier, and I know that seems like 10 years ago," Miller said. "We've been through a lot together, and we care a lot about each other. When you go through what Kevin (has gone) through, as a coach, no one has any idea how much time we have spent together."
Because of that relationship, Miller has been a coach, a mentor, disciplinarian and everything else imaginable.
One of the most difficult roles has been "me trying to be hard on him, knowing that it's almost unfair for me to be hard on him," Miller said. "But that's what's required for him to continue to forge ahead. I'm grateful he's on our team. And it's awesome to see him out there. Every coach and every fan who has followed his story would have the same feeling."
On Friday, Miller said Parrom "had a long way to go" in his return and that Parrom was still learning how to run, jump and cut. And that it was possible that Parrom might return when Arizona played in New York on Thursday against St. Johns. Parrom, too, was pointing to a New York return.
But things changed when he had two good practices where "it became more apparent he was comfortable" to be out there, Miller said. The challenge now will be how many minutes Parrom will play and how effective he will be. He entered the game with 15:24 left in the first half to rousing applause and played 18 minutes.
"He was a big boost for our team," Miller said.
And the crowd was a boost for Parrom, who has thanked the Tucson community for being very supportive while he's dealt with plenty of heartache and injuries.
"It's one of the reasons why I came here," Parrom said. "It's a family setting. I love it."
Parrom called it an "amazing feeling" being able to get back on the court. He also said he's not 100 percent and added that he just wanted to play hard, maybe grab a rebound and hit a shot. He did more than that, grabbing four rebounds and scoring six points. He provided a mood-lifting jolt when he hit a 3-pointer with 6:38 to draw Arizona to within one at 55-54 as Arizona rallied to get the win.
"It felt like that basket counted for eight points," Miller said. "I hope it's a sign of things to come for him. You don't have to be a basketball purist to see we're a better basketball team when he's out there. If he was out there healthy from the start (of the season) we'd have a much better starting point this year, for sure."
So far, it's been a little inconsistent. But like on Sunday, Arizona has found ways to win. For the third straight game, Arizona has come back to win going away. Arizona was down 38-29 at halftime and outscored Ball State 44-25 in the second half.
The Wildcats turned it around by playing some of their best defense of the season. Solomon Hill said it'll eventually "be Arizona's trademark."
Hill, too, was part of Arizona's success, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Miller said it might have been Hill's best game of his career and it was clearly his best of this season.
Arizona also got the best game of Kyle Fogg's senior season. He finished with 21 points, hitting 3 of 5 beyond the arc.