Matisse Thybulle, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, will be one of UW’s leaders next season.
Not another 16-hour flight.
That’s the first thought Matisse Thybulle had when told he was selected to the Pac-12 all-star men’s basketball team playing in Australia.
The Huskies are traveling Down Under in August for a handful of exhibitions so the Washington sophomore didn’t immediately jump for joy about making two round trips over the Pacific Ocean.
“Coach (Lorenzo) Romar texted me out of the blue telling me about this opportunity (and) at first I was like that’s a long flight,” Thybulle said. “Then I thought about it and it’s such a great opportunity.”
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Thybulle is one of 12 players on the Pac-12 team that includes Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson. The squad is led by Mike Montgomery, who coached at Stanford and California.
The conference all-stars play Tuesday and Thursday against the Australian national team that’ll compete in the Rio Summer Olympic Games. The Pac-12 Networks will broadcast the exhibitions live each day at 2:30 a.m. and re-air the telecasts at 6 p.m.
The six-day journey to the island continent serves two purposes for Thybulle.
For starters, it’s a long-awaited homecoming to the country where he spent a portion of his youth.
The 19-year-old Thybulle, who was born in Scottsdale, Ariz., moved to Sydney, Australia with his family in 1998 when he was 2. They lived there for seven years before settling in Sammamish, Wash. in 2005.
“I remember the beaches by our house,” Thybulle said. “I remember I thought it was so weird when we came to the U.S. because the Santa Claus in Australia wore a speedo and rode a surfboard. And when I came here, he was all dressed up in cold weather. The seasons are opposite so our Christmas was basically in the summer.
“I have some childhood friends that are still over there that I’ve kept in touch with a little bit. So it’s going to be exciting.”
On the court, the 6-foot-5 guard has a unique chance to develop burgeoning basketball skills that helped him become a consistent role player for the Huskies last season.
Thybulle averaged 6.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 24.1 minutes as a freshman while starting all 34 games.
“I learned how hard you have to compete,” said the former Eastside Catholic High star. “You’re playing against grown men now. No one is going to take it easy on you.”
It was a solid first year for Thybulle who was the only player in the Pac-12 to rank among the top 15 in steals (13th with 39) and blocks (15th with 32).
He distinguished himself as a standout defensive performer, but developed a bad habit of committing unnecessary fouls. He had more fouls (111) than rebounds (109) and fouled out nine times — second most among UW players.
“We’re hopeful that he will make the next step in terms of being a defensive stopper,” Romar said. “We’d like to see him do a little bit of everything. We’d like to see him rebound the basketball. This year there’s no doubt in my mind that he will score more.”
Thybulle is one of the early candidates the Huskies are hoping will pick up the scoring slack after losing their top three players. Andrew Andrews graduated after leading the Pac-12 with 20.9 points per game while star freshmen Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray left early and were taken in the first round of the NBA draft.
The trio combined for 50.8 points per game and Washington lost 60.5 percent of its scoring.
“Last year, Andrew, Marquese and Dejounte provided a lot of the scoring for us and the majority of our scoring,” Thybulle said. “So now we need to try and balance that more evenly throughout our team because we have a lot of guys returning like myself who didn’t necessarily score as much last year, but now need to score a little bit more just to fill those shoes.”
Thybulle and senior center Malik Dime are expected to be among the team leaders alongside incoming freshman Markelle Fultz, the touted high school All-American point guard.
“The sky is the limit,” Thybulle said when asked about next season’s expectations.
Washington finished 19-15 (9-9 Pac-12) last season after being knocked out in the second round of the NIT. The Huskies missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight year.
“We call ourselves vets now — all of the sophomores,” Thybulle said of UW’s five sophomores. “We were coming into it blind last year not knowing what to expect.
“Now that we know what’s out there waiting for us, I think we have a pretty good chance of being better prepared and maybe taking it a little bit farther than this past year.”