Eager to show he belongs, Royce Hamm Jr. looks to contribute in Texas’ final games

Robert Larkin

Royce Hamm Jr. remembers the doubt starting to creep into his mind.

After playing in only one of the Longhorns’ first nine games and playing only briefly when he entered games in the weeks after, his confidence in his basketball future was starting to waver.

When Hamm left high school in 2017, he was regarded as one of the state of Texas’ best high school basketball prospects. An athletic, versatile forward, he was projected as a solid contributor for the Longhorns. But two seasons into his career, he found himself at the end of the bench, watching the careers of other Longhorn big men take off.

Frustrated, Hamm remembers calling his family and friends at home. Their response spurred his season in a different direction.

“They were saying, ‘Royce, you got to make a decision,’” Hamm said. “‘You have to play. Whatever you can do to help yourself get on the court, find your niche there on the team, then do that.’”

Hamm decided he would make his mark by doing what his teammates wouldn’t, or what he calls “energy plays.” He would dive on the floor, block shots, play tough defense and make the plays that fans rarely see.

He picked up his energy in practice too, and head coach Shaka Smart noticed. On different occasions, he has pointed to Hamm as one of Texas’ best players when they’re working in the gym. Prior to the Longhorns’ game against Oklahoma State on Saturday, Smart decided to reward Hamm’s effort with more game action.

Hamm played 10 minutes, his most since Dec. 28. He recorded four points and three rebounds, but his energy level picked up the entire Texas team.

“He went in the game, he got a big rebound right when he went in,” Smart said. “He gave us a lift defensively the way he played. Made his free throws. If he keeps playing and practicing like that, it forces him out there on the court.”

Forward Dylan Osetkowski works with Hamm consistently in practice, and the two lift weights together during conditioning sessions. In that training, the two have built a bond.

After seeing his teammate’s hard work finally result in some quality minutes against Oklahoma State, the senior was ecstatic.

“I give Royce so much credit for sticking in there,” Osetkowski said. “He knows in some games he might not play, some games he plays a little bit. Every day, he’s one of the hardest playing dudes in practice. To see him do what he does every day in a game and reap the rewards … it’s great. I love it.”

With five games left, Hamm hopes to continue his upward trend and provide help for a Texas team making its final push to the NCAA Tournament. He wants to help the Longhorns realize their dreams in March and become a factor on the court.

But most importantly, Hamm wants to prove that this is where he belongs.

“I feel like I’m going to have a breakthrough,” Hamm said. “So when I get in the game, I’m just going to show people I belong here, and I can play at the University of Texas.”