Growing up in North Houston, Royce Hamm Jr.’s goal was the same as that of most kids in his neighborhood: get out.
Royce’s parents separated when he was just 3 years old. His father moved to San Antonio while Royce and his older sister, Brashae, stayed with their mother in Greenspoint, a largely Hispanic and black neighborhood with a rough reputation in North Houston.
With their mother working long hours at multiple jobs, Brashae stepped up to be the main parental figure in Royce’s childhood.
Basketball wasn’t in Hamm’s life quite yet; in fact, it wasn’t even in sight.
Royce expressed little to no interest in basketball when he was younger. He actually discovered his athleticism on the football field.
“In a neighborhood like that, you always think that athletics is the way to make it out,” Hamm said. “(Kids) always strived to succeed because they felt like athletics was their way out of poverty.”
With the encouragement and guidance of his father, Royce dedicated his time to sports.
“He was so focused on (athletics), I think that kind of helped him. Growing up in Houston isn’t easy,” Royce Hamm Sr. said.
In 2015, Royce lost a former basketball teammate, Brent Randall, in a shooting at a party just off the campus of Texas Southern University.
“It’s tough, living in a neighborhood where you see your teammates or somebody you’re close to murdered,” Hamm said.
Then, in eighth grade, as kids his age played AAU year-round basketball, Royce tested his abilities on the court. He tried out for and made his middle school team, but this was just the beginning.
That ensuing summer, between his eighth and ninth grade years, Royce hit a growth spurt. While spikes in growth are common for incoming freshmen, his was a bit extreme. The once-5-foot-11-inch eighth grader showed up to high school at a towering 6-foot-4-inches.
He felt the athletic impact almost immediately, and with it came the encouragement from friends and family to pursue basketball.
At Benjamin Davis High School, head basketball coach Cornelius Mitchell took a gamble. With just one year of basketball experience, the young freshman was placed on the varsity roster.
In his first varsity game, Royce received the ball on the low block. He took a power dribble and dunked over a senior defender.
“He’s probably one of the most improved players I’ve ever coached in my life. He went from an eighth grader with no basketball experience to one of the top 100 players in the country,” Mitchell recalled.
Coach Mitchell’s gamble appeared to be paying off. As Royce’s tenacious competitiveness continued to prove troublesome for opponents, his recruitment gained steam. At an AAU tournament in the summer of his junior year, he caught the attention of Texas basketball assistant coach Mike Morrell, who later said Royce “exhibited everything Shaka (Smart) wanted in a basketball player.”
“The more we found out about him, the more we liked him,” Morrell said.
With his father in San Antonio, Mitchell stepped up to guide Royce through the recruiting process.
“He really helped me out with that, letting me know what I can do, what I can’t do,” Hamm said. “He was kind of like a father figure because my father wasn’t there.”
In 2016, Royce committed to Texas.
“It was like a home away from home,” Hamm recalled.
Now, Royce faces his next obstacle. Last year wasn’t exactly a breakout season for the freshman. Playing behind Dylan Osetkowski, Jericho Sims and standout Mo Bamba restricted Royce to an average of 5.3 minutes of action per game.
“I don’t look at it as, ‘I wasted a year,’” Hamm said. “I look at it as a learning experience. I learned from watching Mo (Bamba) play, from watching Dylan (Osetkowski) play. Of course it bothered me, but I didn’t let it get me down too much.”
With his sophomore year in sight and Mo Bamba off to the NBA after getting drafted sixth overall by the Orlando Magic, Royce will have an opportunity to compete for a starting spot on the roster, and it’s safe to say he’s more than battle-tested.
The obstacles the sophomore has faced, from overcoming the challenges presented in a single-parent home to getting out of his hometown, have molded the 6-foot-8-inch, 230-pound forward into the person Longhorn fans see today. Now, just as he did as a kid in Greenspoint, he patiently waits for his next opportunity.
“My school and my community made me who I am today,” Hamm said. “I just do what I can do so when my number does get called, I’m ready.”