Matisse Thybulle, the best defender in college basketball: 'I'm a first-round draft pick'

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaab/players/131331/" data-ylk="slk:Matisse Thybulle">Matisse Thybulle</a> is an elite college basketball defender. (Getty)
Matisse Thybulle is an elite college basketball defender. (Getty)

Washington Huskies senior guard Matisse Thybulle is dominating college basketball in an unusual fashion.

His 9.7 scoring average doesn’t tell the true story of how the 6-foot-6 wing is making his presence felt. It’s his defensive presence that sets him apart, and it’s the reason his stock is rising as arguably the top 3-and-D prospect in the 2019 NBA draft in June.

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“Without a doubt, I’m a first-round draft pick,” Thybulle, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, told Yahoo Sports. “If you look at the 3-and-D players in the league today, that’s a skillset I can provide for an NBA team on Day One. I respect all the names I see on these internet draft lists, but there are not 20 players in the country better suited for the NBA than I am. And I believe at my position, I’m more ready to contribute to a team than players mentioned ahead of me.

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“Being a senior should give NBA teams comfort in my maturity and readiness, like Malcolm Brogdon, Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma.”

On Wednesday in a 17-point win over Utah, Thybulle, who shoots 36.6 percent from 3-point range, had 10 points (2-of-3 from 3-point range), seven rebounds, six steals and four blocks in 33 minutes. It was a standard evening for the 21-year-old out of Issaquah, Washington.

The Huskies are 12-1 in conference play and 21-5 overall under second-year head coach Mike Hopkins. It’s a resurgence for a basketball program that typically lacks exposure due to playing late on the West Coast.

But with Thybulle beginning to garner national attention because of his 41-inch vertical leap and 7-foot wingspan, the Huskies also are starting to generate buzz outside of the Pacific Northwest.

“I came back to school to experience this,” Thybulle told Yahoo Sports. “I seriously thought about declaring for the [NBA] draft last year. But after speaking with my parents, my coach, my mentor, this was the right decision and I’ll be a better player for the NBA next season.”

His lightning quick hands, lateral quickness and ability to anticipate opponents’ next move are qualities that have elevated him among elite company.

He’s the first player in 20 seasons to average more than three steals and two blocks per game. With 290 career steals, Thybulle is only 10 away from joining Gary Payton as the second Pac-12 player to amass 300 career steals, and he’s is only 18 steals from breaking Jason Kidd’s single-season conference record of 107.

He’s the favorite to earn his second conference Defensive Player of the Year honor and is in the running for the Naismith DPOY award.

For much of the 2018-19 campaign, Thybulle and Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson were the only two players averaging at least two steals and two blocks per game, but Williamson’s block average has since fallen.

“Zion is an athletic freak,” Thybulle told Yahoo Sports, “but I think my game on the defensive end is more well-rounded. Whether I’m in man [defense] or zone, I know how to leave my mark on that end of the floor. I don’t see anybody better than me at it in this draft class.”

For now, Thybulle says his goals are to finish the regular season strong and bring home the conference championship before the NCAA tournament begins in March.

“We have a special team and we’re still growing,” he said. “I’m excited for what’s ahead. I think we all want to put the Huskies back in their rightful place among the top basketball programs in the country. We have a lot of work to do, but I like our direction. And after that, I’ll focus on my NBA career. I’m just having so much fun right now.”

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