Nevada forward K.J. Hymes searched for a sign at the season’s start. He found it via an in-game buzzer.
Coming off the bench, Hymes already has 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 back-and-forth on the hardwood.
But when he steps onto the floor, the 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.”
Hymes makes the most of his playing time. His 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. He and freshman Zane Meeks are the go-to forwards off the bench for Nevada.
His ability to disrupt plays doesn’t show up on the postgame 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.”
Defensively, Hymes leads the team with 11 blocks — he blocked a career-high four shots against Loyola Marymount on Nov. 9. Nevada improved to 7-3 with a 100-85 victory over Air Force on Saturday.
Hymes’ energy off the bench may catch some eyes for fans in attendance. But it’s his growth and maturity throughout that season that has impressed Nevada coach Steve Alford.
“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.”
Entering his 25th year as a head coach, Alford pushed Hymes to reach his potential.
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 took Alford’s challenge. The young forward appreciated the comments and responded by giving the Pack a physical presence in the paint.
After head coach Eric Musselman left for Arkansas, Hymes entered the Transfer Portal. He announced wanted to play for Alford on April 22.
Hymes and Alford have built a strong foundation.
“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 3-point range during his senior season at Hillcrest Prep High School in Phoenix.
Hymes has the tools to expand his offensive repertoire. For now, he’s focused on anchoring down the defensive end while Nevada’s potent backcourt carries most of the scoring 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 29-5 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.
“Being part 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. He 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.
“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
Harris scores 31, Nevada tops Air Force, 100-85
In a Mountain West Conference opener, Jalen Harris’ career-high 31 points propelled the Pack past Air Force 100-85 on Saturday at the Cadet Field House. Nevada improved to 7-3 overall.
Harris led the way offensively, shooting 11-of-17 from the field and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. The junior guard had 20 points at halftime to help Nevada build a double-digit lead.
Nevada shot 56 percent from the field and 56 percent from beyond the arc. Five players scored in double figures.
Lindsey Drew scored 15 points and dished out six assists. Jazz Johnson added 14 points on 3-of-8 shooting. Zane Meeks scored 13 points and added one block off the bench. Nisré Zouzoua chipped in with 12 points and five rebounds.
The Wolf Pack held the Falcons to 45 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent from 3-point territory. Nevada had six steals and three blocks.
Nevada built a comfortable 53-42 lead at the halftime buzzer. The Pack poured it on for the final 20 minutes, outscoring Air Force 47-43 to seal the win.
Up next: Nevada faces BYU, 7-4, of the West Coast Conference on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at the Marriott Center.