SEATTLE — It’s impossible to talk quickly enough to keep up with everything happening on a basketball court. The game moves too fast. And talking, said Washington’s Matisse Thybulle, is much too slow.
Watch Thybulle play defense and it’s easy to understand his assessment. The senior guard is the only active player Division I in the top 25 in both steals and blocks. In describing his defensive prowess, Thybulle has said it’s like everything around him moves in slow motion.
Imagine his surprise, then, when he gets a steal, looks down the court and fellow senior David Crisp is already halfway to the other end. It happens with some of Thybulle’s other teammates, too, but especially with Crisp. He can predict a steal is coming before Thybulle even makes a move.
“It’s kind of cool because we can read each other really well,” Thybulle said. “We don’t have to use as many words as I think other people might have to. We live with each other now. It even helps that much more. It’s cool. We have a really good feel for each other.”
That wasn’t always the case.
Crisp is UW’s point guard, the player head coach Mike Hopkins has called the heart and soul of the Huskies. He averages 12.4 points per game and is shooting 45 percent from the 3-point line in Pac-12 play. Thybulle, one of the top defenders in the country, averages 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Combined, the senior guards are at the center of the Huskies’ recent success. But in high school, they were rivals. Crisp played for Rainier Beach while Thybulle starred at Eastside Catholic. They faced each other four times during the 2013-14 season.
Sitting in the stands at Alaska Airlines Arena, Crisp was quick to point out that Rainier Beach won all four of those games. When he learned Thybulle didn’t mention the results, he grinned.
The first time they played, Thybulle blocked Crisp’s first two shots. Then, on the first play of the state championship game, Thybulle was wide open on a fast break and going in for a dunk.
“I clobbered him into the mat,” Crisp said, laughing, “just straight up grabbed him. From then on, that whole time, we hated each other. Did not like each other at all.”
Crisp was already committed to the Huskies when they played, while Thybulle committed after the season. When Crisp headed to prep school the next year, he started following the games of his future teammates. When he asked around about Thybulle, he heard nothing but praise.
Still, he wasn’t prepared to arrive on campus and find out his formal rival was now his teammate. Not only that, but they were both exempt from UW’s LEAP program — a four-week introduction to being a college student — and had the same schedule as a result.
While their relationship didn’t change immediately, it didn’t take long.
“I realized that he wasn’t all bad,” Thybulle said. “Just because I didn’t like him because of basketball doesn’t mean he was a bad person. Dave’s probably one of the funniest people I know and I quickly learned that when we got on campus together.”
As freshmen, they would both ride their bikes to the gym together and then again to class. They had nights where they would sit and listen to music — ‘Drake nights,’ Crisp called them — and be up until 4 in the morning the night before 6 a.m. workouts.
“We hung out I think that first day, the whole day,” Crisp said, shaking his head, “I’m just like, I literally hated you two years ago.”
Crisp’s sense of humor won Thybulle over pretty quickly. For Crisp, it was how genuine Thybulle came across. He was just himself all of the time, Crisp said, and that was appealing.
“He’s so content with himself,” Crisp said, “that it doesn’t matter if somebody doesn’t like like this or like that or if they think he’s supposed to be like this or like that. He’s perfectly fine being himself and that’s what I respect about him so much. That’s the first thing I noticed really.”
For four years, the two have been roommates on the Huskies’ road trips. Crisp describes their careers as a roller coaster, from the high expectations of their freshmen season to their 9-22 sophomore year to the program’s resurgence under Hopkins.
Their sophomore season, Thybulle said, was humbling. But even as the losses stacked up, they just tried to stay motivated.
“That’s one thing Dave is really good at,” Thybulle said. “He’s got an incredible confidence to him. He uses that to try and help me and all the guys keep motivated throughout the season.”
As two of UW’s four seniors, both Crisp and Thybulle have taken on leadership roles as the Huskies look to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
Off the court, their personalities are similar. They both said they bring out the goofiness in each other, and there’s constant back-and-forth. Crisp, Thybulle said, loves to sing and dance. He regularly plays pranks. But he’s also kind. And when you’re talking to him one-on-one, he can make you feel like everything you say is important.
Crisp likes to joke that Thybulle is a bully. When he walks into a room, Thybulle frequently offers a comment about what Crisp is wearing. And you can be sure he’ll throw a look Crisp’s way in the film room if he gets scored on.
“We’re always joking about something like that,” Crisp said. “It’s hilarious.”
But on the court, they lead in different ways. While they serve as a calming presence for their teammates during games, Crisp is more of a vocal leader. He’s the one that pulls the Huskies together before they take the court. Thybullle tends to lead more by example.
“He’s going to come out there and be a pest on defense every single day,” Crisp said. “He’s going to bring it. He’s going to win every single line we run. He’s going to go out there and just do the right thing every single day.
“When you have a guy that can do that, when your best player is doing that, when your leader is doing that, then your 15th guy on the bench, he’s got no room to slack off.”
Coming into this season, Thybulle and Crisp wanted to do whatever it took to get to the NCAA Tournament. They fell just short last year, and they didn’t want that to happen again.
“We just believed in ourselves,” Crisp said. “We had everything we need right here to be successful. We got everything we need. We were just like, ‘We’re going to get better everyday.’”
While the years brought them closer to that postseason goal, they’ve also strengthened their friendship. They went through the ups and down together, celebrating the highs and leaning on each other during the lows.
“The more conversations we would have, the more you understand someone, the more things that would happen, the more their actions really start to make sense,” Crisp said. “You really see what drives them, what really bothers them, what really makes them happy, things like that.
“We’ve gotten to know each other so much over the years. Just talking. All these experiences … we’ve been through everything. We’re just crazy close now.”
With six games remaining in the regular season, the Huskies are are 20-5, including 11-1 in Pac-12 play. They could clinch the regular season conference title as soon as this week.
UW’s seniors look well on the way to making their first NCAA Tournament appearance. Three years ago, that might have seemed impossible. But coming into this season, Crisp and Thybulle knew exactly how they wanted their college careers to end.
“Nothing was going to stop us because it was all in our control,” Thybulle said. “We had good seasons and we had terrible seasons and we learned from all of them. We just knew we were going to try and take that into this year to try and get something special done.”