Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller may find one of his Christmas gifts waiting for him on the court.
Freshman Kevin Parrom, recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot, made it through noncontact work this week and will ease his way into practice drills, Miller said. If all goes well, Parrom could play his first game Dec. 28 against BYU.
"The good news is he hasn't had any pain," Miller said Saturday. "We'll start to put him into everything we do over Christmas and if he doesn't experience pain at that point, we'll start to move him into games."
Parrom, a 6-foot-6-inch wing from Bronx, N.Y., established himself as the Wildcats' first reserve off the bench before he suffered the foot injury in UA's second exhibition Nov. 10. The school suggested he would miss four to eight weeks, and Miller said he would consider redshirting Parrom if he could not return by January.
Miller said Parrom definitely would not play at home Monday against Lipscomb or Wednesday versus North Carolina State, but the Wildcats would like to use him in the BYU game before Pac-10 play begins at USC on Dec. 31.
"I'm looking forward to getting Kevin back," Miller said.
Miller said he also expected guard Brendon Lavender to return to practice Saturday night after Lavender missed two games with a thigh bruise, although forward Jamelle Horne (sprained ankle) continues to take it easy with his ankle sprain.
"We're just trying to be smart with him," Miller said.
Of course, getting everybody back on the court is only half the battle for Miller these days.
The Wildcats also have to find cohesiveness and toughness after losing badly at Oklahoma and at San Diego State, Miller said.
"When you go on the road, you have to be able to defend at a very high level," Miller said. "Those two teams have those things in place and talent is very important. We don't have a huge margin for error."
Lipscomb averaged 85.2 points a game entering Saturday, but was held to just 52 against Cincinnati because of the Bearcats' effective man-to-man defense in a 28-point loss.
Whether UA can do the same Monday is unknown.
"(Lipscomb) is a very good offensive team," Miller said. "We've watched them play Vanderbilt and Ohio State, and they're in the game. I feel no matter who we play, we have to defend to have a chance to win.
"A lack of effort or players blowing assignments is not going to allow us to win."
Miller tried to turn things around by holding intense practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. He brought back some players for more instruction on those days - on top of team meetings and film work.
Freshman Solomon Hill, for one, said it was a good experience to go through.
"The thing we have to do is really pay attention to what Coach is saying," Hill said. "You can tell once a guy gets frustrated, he might miss a play and then (the opponent) goes on a run.
"That's the thing I don't like - that everyone is not buying into what Coach is saying and when somebody breaks from it … it just starts a landslide."
Through the mistakes and losses, however, Miller said the Wildcats' attitude remains good.
"It's never fun to lose, and you learn a lot about kids when you watch them go through it," Miller said. "We're continuing to grow and believe. We should be a team that's going to be much more difficult to play against in January and February, though just because you're young doesn't mean that's going to happen.
"But we're going to work really hard in this together, and I believe in everyone of these players."