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Ashley Adamson: Matisse Thybulle's joyful, contagious energy and the enduring memory from my time in Seattle

Nov 16, 2018

Most Pac-12 fans know Matisse Thybulle as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, a versatile 6-foot-5 senior who owns the program record for steals and has started every game of his Husky career.

That's generally how I knew Matisse — up until this past August when we spent a day together in Seattle.  

A day with Matisse in Seattle is like spending a day with a local celebrity in their hometown. Everyone knows and loves him, and it’s truly not hard to see why. Matisse has a joyful, contagious energy that is as refreshing as it is rare. He lights up the room any time he talks about his love of basketball, the art of photography or the city of Seattle. He opened up to me on those topics and many others — including why he decided to forego the NBA draft and return to UW for his senior season after his coach, Lorenzo Romar, was fired last March.

But for me, the enduring memory of that day is the way Matisse spoke about his mom.  

Elizabeth Thybulle was a naturopathic doctor — a healer by trade — and a fitness nut with a giant heart. She always found the silver lining in everything. Matisse described her as his best friend and a real life superwoman. He recalled feeling sad for other kids growing up because they didn’t have her as their mom.

Elizabeth never got to see her son play basketball at Washington. She passed away from complications of cancer when Matisse was a high school senior at Eastside Catholic.

“There’s something funny,” Matisse told me. “When someone passes away, everyone has a tendency to remember them as being this perfect person. And for a little while, I thought I was falling into that. But the more I think about it, I’m not remembering her for any other way than she truly was. … She was perfect.

“I hate to use the word perfect, but I can’t find a better way to describe her. She did it all.”

Thybulle on set
Pac-12 Networks

Matisse thinks about her every day. He says he often feels her presence intensely on game days. There are moments he runs onto the court and is convinced he sees her in the stands. And while she may not physically be there, it is clear to all who know Matisse — that Elizabeth’s love and light live on through her son.

“My mom’s not here to be an example for me anymore, but the time I was lucky enough to have her in my life, I learned more than I’ll ever be able to understand,” Matisse said. “She used to tell me, ‘Why do you waste your energy being mad? It’s not productive — just love. Love everyone.’ And that’s been one of the biggest things I try to live by.

“She taught me to appreciate that everyone you meet has something to offer, everyone has a story and there’s no one that is less or more important. At the end of the day you never know what life has for you. You just have to appreciate the moment and live in it.”