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Texas has a hard-nosed energy guy in Royce Hamm, Jr

A key stretch against Lipscomb should serve as the springboard for Hamm heading into his junior season.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Final Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Every program needs an energy guy, someone who will do the dirty work in the paint and behind the scenes.

Following a sophomore season that ended with big flashes of those attributes in the NIT final, Texas Longhorns forward Royce Hamm, Jr is that player for head coach Shaka Smart and his staff.

When Hamm checked into the game in the first half against Lipscomb, Texas was just starting to find a rhythm after missing its first eight shots. The coaches were frustrated with forward Jericho Sims because he wasn’t following the scouting report against against Rob Marberry, who was scoring easily around the rim with his preferred left hand.

Kerwin Roach had just found Sims for a dunk and then combined with Dylan Osetkowski to make four free throws. The Horns had a five-point lead during a key stretch with the game still hanging in the balance.

At one end of the court, Hamm came down with a defensive rebound. When Ramey missed a three-pointer, Hamm battled for the offensive rebound, then went up strong for the contested finish, prompting a Lipscomb timeout as the Texas lead reached seven points. After play restarted with quick exchanges on each end for both teams, Hamm soared for a block in transition and the Bisons never got closer than that for the remainder of the game.

“He was saying go all out, be a junkyard dog,” Hamm said of Smart’s directions to him. “He emphasized just stopping [Rob] Marberry. He had all of the points for Lipscomb in the first five minutes. Coach [Darrin] Horn and Coach [Smart], they just challenged me to go in there and give it my all and just play with a high energy and a high consistency, so that’s what I tried to do, and when I did those things, other things started happening for me as well.”

Consider Jaxson Hayes someone who is interested in seeing what Hamm can do as a junior.

“I’m excited to watch what he does,” Hayes said on Wednesday. “I mean, you guys saw him against Lipscomb when he came in, played big minutes with Jericho and DO in foul trouble — Royce came in and then had a dunk, a crazy block, so I’m excited for Royce.”

Overall, Hamm made modest improvements on his freshman season, increasing his field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, and his rebounding rate, most notably on the offensive end. He eliminated three-point attempts from his arsenal and improved his finishing ability around the rim, in part because he improved as an athlete and got more comfortable playing against bigger opponents than he faced consistently in high school.

The next step for Hamm is to continue becoming more efficient close to the basket, as his field-goal percentage at the rim was only slightly better than that of Osetkowski, who was known for blowing layups. Hamm also struggled at times to stay on the court because he had a stretch during the season in which he consistently got called for moving screens, though some of those issues were on his guards for not allowing him time to get set.

Hayes and Osetkowski are gone, but Texas also signed top-40 prospect Will Baker and the wildly athletic Kai Jones in the frontcourt, so Hamm will still have plenty of competition for playing time. He’ll have to continue growing as an energy who can increase accountability on the team by allowing the coaches to substitute him when players ahead of him in the rotation aren’t playing to Shaka Smart’s standards. At the least, he’ll push players like Baker, Jones, Kamaka Hepa, and Jericho Sims during practice, as he did for Hayes.

“Royce was the whole reason why I got better this year,” Hayes said. “Without Royce, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. He was on the opposite team in practice and pushed me every day, getting physical with me. He didn’t care if I was a starter or not.”