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Royce Hamm Jr. making the most of his opportunity at UNLV

UNLV senior center Royce Hamm Jr. has always played with relentless energy. Always been a voracious rebounder who devours boards like Thanksgiving dinner.

But until this season, he deployed his hustle mostly in practice at Texas — as a reserve behind NBA-caliber post players.

“That was a great stepping stone for me in my life,” Hamm said. “The process of just being there with those guys, taking in so much information, watching their movements. Watching what they do. What makes them great. … Learning those little techniques helped me better myself.”

Hamm is blossoming into one of the Rebels’ most indispensable players, doubling as their defensive anchor and one of the best rebounders in the country. He’s averaging 12.4 through five games, ranking seventh among qualified Division I players. He’s also grabbing 18.8 per 40 minutes, ranking sixth among that same group.

The fifth-year senior was buried on the Longhorns’ bench behind Mo Bamba, Jaxson Hayes, Greg Brown, Kai Jones and Jericho Sims, all of whom were NBA draft picks.

“We knew he was athletic, but we weren’t really sure being four years removed from a heavy role since high school, it’s really just been pleasantly surprising every day,” said UNLV coach Kevin Kruger.

“He’s the exact same in practice as he is in the games. I would bet that’s exactly what he was like for four years at Texas, regardless of what he was asked to do on game night. That’s why we’re just happy to see him having success and having fun playing.”

To Kruger’s point, Hamm played sparingly during his four years at Texas. He started eight games there and never averaged more than 12.3 minutes in a single season.

The program’s cachet appealed to top recruits. But he was unwavering in his approach despite the level of competition on the Texas roster, determined to challenge his former teammates and privately improve before committing to Kruger and UNLV (3-2) as a graduate transfer.

“I just try to play hard. Just try to give energy,” he said. “That’s my biggest thing. When I’m not scoring, when I’m not putting the ball in the bucket, I still affect the game. That’s what I just think about. How can I help my team win? … Rebounds are an effort thing. You can’t coach that.”

The Houston native battles on both the offensive and defensive glass, using an understanding of positioning and angles to secure second-chance opportunities and draw loose-ball fouls that create extra possessions.

He’s also a good screener and his hard rolls can draw help defenders from the weak side to free up shooters in the corner.

He averages a team-high 1.8 blocks and can contest shots without jumping by playing aggressive positional defense. He’s also scoring 8.2 points per game, feasting mostly as an offensive rebounder by converting 7 of 9 putbacks this season, per Synergy Sports Technology.

“He’s an animal. Coach Kruger brought him in here to do exactly what he’s doing,” Rebels point guard Jordan McCabe said. “There were promises made on both sides in terms of ‘You’re coming here to do your job and in return, I’ll do this as a coach. I’m going to let you guys play with this type of freedom as long as you do what I ask on the defensive end of the floor.’

“With Royce, you don’t have to ask,” McCabe added. “He’s just going to go do it.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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