CAMDEN, N.J. — Matisse Thybulle literally ran over to his media availability after practice Wednesday.
It’s the first time the charismatic rookie had spoken to reporters since suffering a right knee bruise and sprain against the Wizards back on Dec. 21.
How is he feeling?
“You didn't see me run over here? I feel great,” Thybulle joked. “I really do, I feel good. I'm excited, everything should be the same tomorrow.”
After being a full participant at practice Wednesday, Thybulle is expected to return to the lineup Thursday against the Celtics — and come back a little wiser.
It wasn’t easy for Thybulle to sit and watch the last seven games. While he was out, the team incurred a four-game losing streak, it’s worst of the season.
But it wasn’t all bad. While he watched from the bench, he took mental notes. He also prepared for every game as if he would be out there.
“Really what we did is tried not to change anything,” Thybulle said after practice Wednesday. “My pregame routine, aside from working out, was the same. I still went through the scouts, still went through the game plans. Tobias [Harris] still gave me the iPad with the plays, it was still the same thing because there was no reason for me to get out of that routine.”
The veteran Harris has really taken the 22-year-old Thybulle under his wing. They sit next to each other on the team plane and their lockers are close by. Thybulle describes Harris as a “big brother” that’s helped him adjust to life in the NBA, on and off the court.
Harris was glad to see his rookie back at practice and wanted to make sure Thybulle didn’t miss a beat.
I always want him to stay locked in and still present yourself as if you're playing,” Harris said, “get to the arena the same time if you were going to be playing, stay in your routine. I think routine is big over the course of the season and not getting out of that. I am always throwing the iPad to him with the personnel in there and quizzing him a little bit after, so just making sure his mind is locked into each and every game, so when he comes back it's second nature and the same thing and he can walk right back into it.
And how does he do on those quizzes?
“He does good. He's about a B+ student right now.”
Brett Brown was also glad to see his impressive rookie back. Thybulle’s propensity to gamble defensively has led to momentum-shifting plays. It’s also led to the occasional frustrations from his head coach.
Thybulle has talked since training camp about walking that “fine line.” It’s a balance he’s constantly looking to find.
Brown is hoping Thybulle’s time observing will help him in his return to the court.
I always enjoy the conversation with him, where I would say to him, ‘This is really a good experience,” Brown said. “You probably don’t realize it, but this is part of your career — you will be injured. And how you take advantage of it will be important.’ And so the vision line that you have in a suit vs. you sitting on a bench, it’s all different. You’re going to feel things, you’re going to see things, you’re going to have a set of experiences that you just wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“He and I always talk like that — ‘What do you see? What have you learned? What do you think?’ I enjoy the dialogue. I enjoy it with everybody, and I especially enjoy it with young guys. There were always interesting conversations that we would have — pretty high-level conversations. ... I hope that kind of globally, holistically, in the world that we live in basketball-wise, he’s just a little bit smarter, little bit better, little bit more polished.
Thybulle has carried himself differently from most rookies since he came here. There’s a reason GM Elton Brand had the Washington product targeted and ultimately traded up to acquire him.
He’s taken everything in stride. The injury was just another wrinkle to his first NBA season.
“It helped me just not take it for granted,” Thybulle said. “Just being injured, and also just being on the court, watching people make the mistakes that I usually make out there and seeing how you can avoid those — that was something that I actually picked up on a lot.”
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