Commentary

Kevin Parrom taking it one step at a time

Originally Published: November 17, 2011
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

His son was just lying there, prone in a hospital bed and unable to feel his leg beneath the knee.

When he was done beating himself up, chastising himself for not being at home when two gunmen broke in hell-bent on hurting his boy, Kenneth Parrom refocused on his son, Kevin.

The doctors told Kevin Parrom that they had done what they could do. The bullet fragments beneath his knee would be permanent reminders of that terrifying September night, but the rest was up to him.

Yet Kevin Parrom just lay there, wondering what was supposed to happen to him, to his family. In another New York City hospital, his mother, Lisa Williams, lay dying from cancer.

[+] EnlargeKevin Parrom
Chris Coduto/Icon SMIIn his first game since losing his mother and getting shot, Kevin Parrom scored six points and hit a key 3-pointer on Nov. 13 against Ball State.

Now here was Kevin, the bright hope, the kid with the basketball future that would lead to better things for everyone, in his own hospital bed, his numb right leg mocking his future.

"I told him, 'You've got to get up. Get up out of this bed and start moving,'' Kenneth Parrom said. "He thought I was going to help him, but I told him that he had to do it himself, and he did. It wasn't a full step. It was just a little step.''

In just a few short, horrific months, the Arizona junior lost his grandmother, his mother and confronted his own mortality. It would be enough to paralyze many people.

Instead, Kevin Parrom has kept moving forward, one little step at a time.

On Thursday, less than two months after being shot and only four weeks since burying his mother, Kevin will lead the Wildcats against St. John's in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and ESPN3).

"I can't dwell on what's happened to me,'' Kevin said. "My mom wouldn't want me to. I'm grateful that I'm still here. All I can do is keep living my life and moving forward.''


Lisa Williams was what you'd lovingly call a tough cookie. She suffered no fools, not from her kids and not from outsiders, either.

Though she and Kenneth Parrom were no longer together, they remained a unified front when it came to raising their son.

Kevin could be stubborn, especially when it came to basketball. More than once his father would tell him not to try out for a team and Kevin would -- "and then he'd make it," Kenneth laughed.

But he was a good kid. He avoided the perils of New York City, opting for the playgrounds and basketball courts instead of the streets.

"His mom didn't play around,'' said Kevin's AAU coach, Gary Charles. "She let you know she was there for him and that you weren't going to walk all over her. His dad, too, he's always been there, and I think when you're a kid and your parents show up, you walk a little straighter. That was the way it was with Kevin.''

A standout player at St. Raymond's in the Bronx, Kevin transferred to South Kent, a prep school in Connecticut, for his final two seasons. The savvy guard would eventually become good enough to be No. 18 at his position in ESPNU's rankings, earning his ticket to Arizona.

But just as life for Kevin was taking off, it was falling apart back home.

Williams had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She no more suffered the disease's nonsense than she did people's, fighting cancer with the same feistiness she used in raising her kids.

The odds were never in her favor but she never let on to Kevin, and he believed her.

"She was so strong, so I thought she'd get through it -- she promised me she'd get through it,'' Kevin said. "I didn't think anything would happen.''

Williams kept her declining health from her son for months, shielding him even more after his beloved grandmother -- Williams' mother -- died of the disease in July.

[+] EnlargeLisa Parrom
Courtesy of Kevin ParromParrom, who lost his mother, Lisa, to breast cancer on Oct. 16, wears this photo of her around his neck.

"She knew she was dying. She knew she was going to die, but she kept that from Kevin,'' Kenneth Parrom said. "When he came home in the summer, her cousin wanted to tell him and Lisa said, 'Why would I want him to tell him? So he could come home and watch me die? I want him to keep on doing what he's doing.''

Cancer, though, proved to be every bit as stubborn and willful as Williams and eventually she realized if she wanted to see her son again, she'd have to let him face the truth.

And so in September, Williams sent Arizona coach Sean Miller a text, asking if Kevin could fly home before the season.

"I knew this was more than a hospital visit,'' Miller said.

Aided by the NCAA's emergency fund for athletes -- a godsend, Miller said, that allowed Kevin to take the cross-country flights he could otherwise not afford -- Kevin flew to New York on Sept. 23.

"She was in a lot of pain, you could tell,'' said Kevin, who spent nine hours that day visiting with his mom. "She took morphine to get through that, but it only helped a little bit.''

Later that night after visiting his mom, Kevin met up with an old friend, a woman, at his father's apartment in the Bronx.

At around 1 a.m., two men, one allegedly jealous, broke into the apartment. One, Jason Gonzalez, carried a gun with him. Kevin fled to a bedroom, but the men broke through the door and struggled. Gonzalez allegedly shot Kevin twice -- once in the hand and once just below the knee.

"I didn't feel anything. My leg just went straight numb,'' said Kevin, who later returned to testify before a grand jury. Gonzalez has been charged with attempted murder.


The twists and turns of life sometimes are impossible to comprehend. God doesn't give us more than we can handle ... that's what those who believe in a higher being are taught.

How to explain, though, a 21-year-old finally living out his dream of playing Division I basketball, who, between losing the two most influential women in his life is left to confront his own mortality?

Kevin wasn't gravely wounded, but a gunshot wound is a gunshot wound.

This one was serious enough that doctors weren't sure if Kevin would recover fully to play this season.

"Every doctor and neurosurgeon we dealt with, they could never say six or eight weeks,'' Miller said. "At first they just didn't know what was damaged.''

In New York, Kevin wasn't thinking about basketball. He was thinking about his mother, about home and about the fact that his university was 2,500 miles away.

His parents, his coaches, everyone thought Arizona was the best place for Kevin, a safe haven to cocoon him and a place where he could get a sense of normalcy.

Only Kevin didn't see it that way at all.

"At first he was like, 'Daddy, I'm not going back,'" Kenneth Parrom said. "I told him he had to, but he wasn't listening to me at that point. Finally his aunt was the one who told him that he had to go back because his mother would want him to. She wouldn't want him to stop living his life because of her.''

Kenneth Parrom said his son gets his strength from Williams, that the grace, spirit and dignity she showed in her fight with cancer is why he's been able to keep playing and moving forward.

But some of her qualities, like selflessness, certainly were born in Kevin.

Because when Kevin reluctantly agreed to return to Arizona, he did so with a caveat: No one would tell his mother he'd been shot.

"She didn't need any more worries on her,'' Kevin said. "She needed to focus on her situation, not on me.''


Inspired by his mother's wish that he live his life, Kevin poured his energy, his doubt, everything he had into his rehab.

[+] EnlargeKevin Parrom
Chris Morrison/US PresswireKevin Parrom has returned to the Wildcats, but his ankle is braced and heavily taped.

More than grueling, it was terrifying. Kevin went a good two weeks before he regained any feeling in his right leg, each numb day greeted with the same fear that things would never get better.

"He's had some tough days and I would say the hardest thing being his coach is when he has those tough days, my job is to encourage him to keep fighting,'' Miller said. "When he leaves the office, you say to yourself, 'It's unfair to even have that conversation. How can I ask anything of this kid right now?'"

Initially doctors didn't know if Kevin would come back. Then they targeted early December.

Kevin wasn't interested in deadlines. The same kid who defied his father's advice and tried out for teams seemingly more advanced than his skills ignored the timetables people set. "It sounds crazy but I wasn't thinking about any of that,'' Kevin said. "I just focused on getting back on the court.''

And then just as things started to get better -- about a week after he regained feeling in his leg -- Kevin got the phone call. On Oct. 16, his mother died. Lisa Williams was 52.

At the funeral, Charles spoke briefly with his former player.

"You've obviously been tried in these last couple of months, but you're still standing,'' Charles told him. "Take advantage of it.''

Kevin, he said, nodded wordlessly. He didn't need to say anything.

Kenneth Parrom and Lisa Williams already had delivered that message.

"I don't have time to be angry and my mother wouldn't want it that anyway,'' Kevin said. "She'd be upset with me. I can hear her in my head telling me, 'Don't think about what happened before. Think about yourself. Move forward.'"


And so Kevin Parrom keeps moving, keeps taking steps. The latest came on Sunday, when he played in his first game of the season. Greeted by a standing ovation that had nothing to do with basketball, Parrom scored six points in 18 minutes in the Wildcats' come-from-behind win against Ball State.

[+] EnlargeKevin Parrom
AP Photo/John MillerParrom's return on Sunday was an emotional moment in Tucson.

He sunk a critical 3-pointer to secure the game, but his contribution was so much more.

"Just to see his face, to have him in that game, it was an incredible moment,'' Miller said. "These last seven weeks have seemed like a year, so it for to all come to that point for him was incredible.''

And now it is on to New York, for a Coaches vs. Cancer game that means so much more to Kevin, who wears a band on his left wrist in support of breast cancer research.

This is about cancer, but it's more about home. This game long has been circled on the family calendar.

When the reality of her life hit her in April, Lisa Williams had one goal.

"She was trying to hang on for this game here in the Garden,'' Kenneth Parrom said.

Sadly she couldn't.

But Lisa Williams will be in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. She'll be there in the faces and mixed in the tears of her extended family; there in the photo that Kevin now carries with him everywhere.

And there, in her son, the one who hesitantly took a step out of his own hospital bed and, like his mother would have wanted, hasn't stopped moving forward since.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.

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