For University of Washington forward Matisse Thybulle, it’s all about family. The promise of staying close to his family helped the Issaquah native to commit to Lorenzo Romar’s Huskies, and the sense of family that he has found at Washington that is easing his transition to Division I basketball.
The former prep standout for Eastside Catholic visited Oregon, Cal, and Gonzaga before deciding to stay home to play his college ball, saying he felt at home in Romar’s program.
Having his father, Greg, and sister, Chloe, in the stands for home games wasn’t just a bonus; it was part of the draw.
The only one absent is Thybulle’s mother, Elizabeth, who passed away during his senior year of high school due to complications from cancer. Thybulle honors her by wearing four, her favorite number.
“I definitely wanted to stay close to home,” said Thybulle Tuesday. “There are a couple reasons why, but I think a lot of it was being able to be close to family and friends.
“A lot of fans from high school get to come and watch. Even my high school friends and teammates get to come see all the games. It’s fun to see familiar faces.”
Thybulle said that he was surprised to find the same sense of family and community at Washington, despite its 30,000 undergraduates.
“You’d think because it’s such a big school that it’s not going to have a family feel to it, but that was the exact opposite of what it really is,” Thybulle said. “All the athletes and faculty are so close. It’s a lot closer than I expected, and that’s something I really enjoy.”
Familiarity and community are themes that not only help freshmen feel at home on campus, Thybulle says, but also helps improve defenses, which will be tested twice in Los Angeles this week, first at 7 p.m. Thursday at UCLA (3-4, 12-8) on FS1 and then at noon Saturday at USC (4-3, 15-5) on Pac-12 Networks.
Thybulle doesn’t light up the box score on offense, scoring 5.7 points a game despite averaging 24 minutes. The six-foot-five freshman describes himself as defensive-minded. It shows. Thybulle has 22 steals and 19 blocks, an impressive stat considering his height.
The sense of family and community he feels in Seattle and on campus is amplified on the team.
“You’ve got to trust that if you are going to be in the lane denying, that someone’s got your back in the paint for that back-door cut,” said Thybulle. ”There’s a couple other times in our defense that you’ve just got to trust that someone’s going to be there so you can make that play.”
The trust is there for the Huskies. But the numbers have some catching up to do. Washington allows a Pac-12-worst 78.9 points per game in conference play. But the Huskies share the Pac-12 lead at 5-2 (13-6 overall) ledger thanks to an up-tempo offense averaging conference-best 84.5 points per game.
Romar said that while Thybulle fits right in on defense, he hopes to see offensive production.
“Matisse is one of those rare defenders that can guard his own guy and everybody else’s guy,” said Romar. “He blocks shots. He gets a lot of deflections off the ball. (The opponent) throws the ball to someone that’s open, he can close up and get there in a hurry.
“Lately he’s been hitting big free throws and big shots for us. We’d like to see him get to the point where on a consistent basis he can make plays offensively.”
Teammate and fellow freshman Dejounte Murray agreed.
“I think a lot of people are sold on him being athletic, and being a defensive player,” he said. “I feel like he’s a real good system guy. He does everything right. He can knock down shots, he can get to the basket. He shows us in practice that he’s got the offensive depth, too.”
Thybulle said he knows Romar has high expectations. With his family watching and teammates standing beside him, Thybulle is in a good place to exceed those expectations.