SEATTLE — They can laugh about it now but the situation between David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle wasn’t always so friendly.
Long before Crisp and Thybulle were Washington’s starting backcourt, the junior guards were high school rivals.
Crisp, a Tacoma native, starred at Rainier Beach. Thybulle, who is from Issaquah, was a standout at Eastside Catholic. Rainer Beach and Eastside Catholic are two of Seattle’s biggest prep basketball power houses and with it came an inherent dislike.
It also didn’t help Thybulle blocked Crisp’s shot. Twice.
“I remember the first game we played them, they were like this long lanky guy is going to guard you,” Crisp said with a smile. “I was like, “This guy right here?” He got this short haircut, his ears are sticking out. I come out, shoot my first 3 — boom — he blocks it. I’m like ‘OK.’ I was thinking it was a fluke. I come again, off the dribble trying to get a (another 3-pointer) and he blocks me again.
“I’m like, ‘Alright. Who is this dude?’ ”
Crisp and Thybulle have since moved on from their initial encounter.
They’ve become genuinely close friends who’ve also anchored UW’s 2-3 zone defense in head coach Mike Hopkins’ first year at Washington.
The Huskies (14-6, 4-3 Pac-12 Conference) were one of the worst defenses in America last season en route to finishing with a 9-22 mark.
Much of their turnaround can be attributed to how well they’re stopping opponents this year.
At the heart of it all are Crisp and Thybulle. Hopkins said Crisp, who is 6-foot, does many of the little things that go unnoticed to the untrained eye.
Thybulle, who is 6-5, is a bit more visible with his defensive production as he’s third nationally with three steals.
UW, as a whole, is in the upper half of several defensive statistical categories. The Huskies have held teams to 44.1 percent from the field and 73.3 points per game.
Opponents were shooting at a rate of 51.3 percent and for an average of 81.1 points last season.
“When you’ve got veteran players of their level and they’re buying in,” Hopkins said of Crisp and Thybulle. “They make it very difficult for the opposing team to get any good looks.”
Thybulle said it was funny to see how his relationship with Crisp developed considering they were rivals not too long ago.
The dynamic changed going into their freshman year at UW. None of the freshmen, aside from future first-round pick Dejounte Murray, had a defined role going into the season, he recalled.
It then dawned on Crisp and Thybulle. Between what they each bring to the court, they could form a strong partnership if they wanted.
“We have a chance to play significant roles on this team,” Thybulle said. “We were on the road together. Every game I’ve played on the road, David has been my roommate. That’s a lot of time, so, we just got to know each other.
“We realized we had each others’ back and were good enough to do what’s asked of us on that court.”
Thybulle said his partnership with Crisp works because they complement each other really well.
It’s become a bit of running joke. If there’s a ball Thybulle and his 7-foot wingspan cannot reach, somehow Crisp finds a way to get there.
“I’ll be like, ‘David, I’m way longer than you,’” Thybulle said. “And he’ll say, ‘But I can get the bounce passes.’”
Thybulle said many of Crisp’ steals come because opponents think they can try to sneak a bounce pass by him.
It’s another reason why the Crisp-Thybulle pairing can be treacherous to face. The Huskies are ninth nationally with 8.8 steals.
UW is also ninth in another category called “steals per possession.” The metric measures how often teams force steals.
Hopkins’ zone is forcing steals at a rate of 11.9 percent of the time.
“It’s been huge. Especially coming off the year we had last year … he was one of the first dudes I was on the phone with when we got the news about (former coach Lorenzo Romar being fired),” Crisp said. “I was just like, ‘If we stay here, we can do this thing.’ Just being here, in the position we’re in now and then being out there on top with him on defense.
“We’re communicating through the whole possession, every possession. It’s fun out there on defense with him.”