K.J. Hymes shoots a free throw in Lawlor Events Center. Hymes is wearing a white jersey and is holding a basketball. He also has a basketball net tattooed on his forearm.
Jayme Sileo/Nevada Sagebrush. Freshman K.J. Hymes goes to the line for a free throw attempt during a match at Lawlor Event Center. Hymes has shot .579 from the free throw line so far this season.

An abrupt sound is the only obstacle holding Nevada forward K.J. Hymes from wreaking havoc on the court.

It’s the buzzer between stoppages in play for teams to make substitutions. Hymes has already developed a routine underneath the scorer’s table, waiting to be checked into the game. His lanky arms and legs shake in anticipation and his sneakers squeak sliding back-and-forth.   

Once Hymes steps onto the floor, his bottled up energy is finally released. 

“All I need to hear is that sound,” Hymes said. “It feels like forever sometimes. I get the jitters and I just want to get out on the court so badly. But once I’m in, I know it’s all in my control from there.” 

Throughout the year, Hymes’ hustle on both ends of the floor is evident. The 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman sprints the length of the court to make an impact on every play. 

His ability to disrupt plays doesn’t show up on the post-game box score. But Hymes’ size and athleticism to protect the rim gives the Wolf Pack a much-needed spark throughout various points in the game. 

“When I go in the game, I get into a serious mindset,” he said. “I don’t want anybody scoring at the rim and I take pride in that. I don’t like opposing teams getting easy layups, I’m trying to change or block that shot and do whatever I can on both ends.” 

The season statistics fail to show Hymes’ effectiveness on the floor. He is averaging just 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in eight games off the bench. Defensively, Hymes leads the team with nine blocks, including a career-high four blocks against Loyola Marymount on Nov. 9.  

Nevada head coach Steve Alford has been impressed by his improvement.   

“I thought he’s responded so well for our team,” Alford said. “In the opening game, he played just six minutes. Now he’s getting almost three-times the minutes. And within those minutes he’s gonna give it all he has. He’s really challenged himself for a kid so early in his college career.” 

Hymes’ determination for success begins and ends with Alford. Alford—who is entering his 25th year as a head coach—pushed him to reach his potential to begin the season. 

Each game for Hymes is a new test for the young forward. He’s already faced a pair of Pac-12 players down low in Utah’s 7-foot center Branden Carlson and USC forward Nick Rakocevic. 

“We haven’t had a true litmus test for our bigs down low, that’s why I’ve been so hard on K.J.,” Alford said earlier in the season. “He’s gonna get tested throughout the year. So we’re going to have a better gauge of him from that standpoint.”

Hymes didn’t falter to Alford’s challenge. He appreciated the comments and responded by giving the Pack a physical presence in the paint. 

“It’s extremely important for me,” Hymes said. “I’ve been a part of programs where players get left in the dust who could be really good. They aren’t pushed and aren’t treated with respect, and it’s good to be in a place where coach believes in me.” 

Offensively, Hymes is capable of expanding his range and finishing ability in the post. The forward shot 49 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range during his senior season at Hillcrest Prep High School in Phoenix, Ariz. 

For now, he’s focused on anchoring down the defensive end while Nevada’s potent backcourt carries most of the offensive load. 

“I want to be a guy that can be scoring from every dimension of the floor,” he said. “But for right now, with the guards we have, they control the offense. I’m here to help them out. In the coming years, I’ll take on more of that offensive role.” 

Before his emergence on the court for the 2019-20 campaign, Hymes used his redshirt freshman season to observe Nevada’s winning culture. The Wolf Pack finished with a 29-5 record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed against the No. 10 seeded Florida Gators. 

Nevada fell to the Gators 71-60, but Hymes learned valuable lessons from last year’s team. 

“Being apart of that team was really special,” he said. “Even though we didn’t go too deep in the tournament, I was able to be apart of an historic team. I learned how to win, and now I know what it takes to win. I was in practice seeing how they worked and I picked up some of those things.” 

Hymes was a three-star recruit coming out of Hillcrest Prep and St. Mary’s High School. The Phoenix, Ariz. native averaged 17 points and eight rebounds in his junior year at St. Mary’s to earn a second-team All-4A Conference selection. Hymes averaged 12.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks his senior year at Hillcrest Prep. 

He received a slew of collegiate scholarship offers along the way, including a chance to play for his hometown team at the University of Arizona. Hymes passed on the opportunity to break out of his comfort zone at Nevada in 2018.

“I wanted to get out of home,” he said. “I just wanted to find my own path. I came on a visit here and saw how the guys acted between each other and I was attracted to that. It just felt like the right place to be.” 

Now in his second year with the Wolf Pack, Hymes has established some roots in Reno. But he’s focused on making the most of his time on the court. 

“It’s a different pace from anywhere I’ve been before,” he said. “It’s a lot different from Phoenix. I’m adapting to the new culture and I’m fitting in. But on the court, I’m gonna do whatever I can to put us where we need to be.” 

Isaiah Burrows can be reached at rfreeberg@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.