All eyes were on Rainier Beach last season with the Seattle High School basketball media, and deservedly so. “Beach,” as the school is often referred as, went 29-1 last season and made it to the Dick’s High School National Tournament in New York City, where the school suffered its only loss of the season.
However, that was last year. This year, more local pundits will turn their attention to Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Wash., where the Crusaders will be looking to claim the 3A Washington State title after narrowly losing to the Vikings by only two points in last season’s state championship game.
That claim is far from asinine, as the Crusaders return their two top players from last season, Matisse Thybulle and Mandrell Worthy. The two top northwest prospects have played together for a while now, playing on the same high school team at Eastside Catholic and the same AAU team this summer with Northwest Express.
“We play really well together, in AAU and in high school,” Thybulle said. “It was nice being able to play with Mandrell throughout the summer. We are just getting a better and better feel for each other and I think it is going to be tough to stop Mandrell and I in the high school season.”
In the past, Worthy was often considered Eastside Catholic’s go-to-guy, with Thybulle the second in command. After an outstanding summer, where the 6-foot-7 small forward’s interest with the top programs on the West Coast skyrocketed and earned him a spot in the Scout.com top 100 rankings, Thybulle will most likely be looked at as the Crusaders main player this upcoming season with Mandrell playing second fiddle.
“He’s going to take on more of the scoring role this year and I’m going to play point guard, my natural position,” Worthy said.
Nonetheless, Thybulle emphasized that Worthy should not be overlooked by opponents, or they will pay.
“I’m going to get a lot more shots than I did last year and coach is going to put me in a lot more positions to make more scoring plays,” Thybulle said. “At the same time, other teams are going to catch on to that and they’ll do a box in one [zone defense], put their best guy on me or double team me to try and stop me. By doing that it leaves Mandrell open, who is also a very good scorer. I think it will cause a lot of problems for teams.”
There is no doubt that Thybulle and Worthy will combine to be one of the best backcourts in the state of Washington next season, but will it be enough to knock of the reigning three-time 3A state champions, Rainer Beach? Thybulle and Worthy think so.
“I think Rainer Beach and ourselves will be there at the end and this year I think we could pull it off,” Worthy said.
“I think we have the ability to do this year what we could not do last year, and that would be to beat them, Thybulle said.”
Although the Eastside Catholic stars are confident in their team’s abilities, they do not believe it will be a cakewalk to the state title game, by any means. The Crusaders play in arguably the hardest basketball conference in the state, 3A Metro, and will be tested every single night.
“Every night there is always a guard that is coming after you,” Worthy said. “I have to be on my toes and ready play. There is always a player that is able to score 30 points a game against you if you are not playing defense or if you are not ready to play.”
“We don’t’ play teams multiple times, we play everyone just once. So each game has that much more riding on it because that one loss can really mess up your entire season,” Thybulle said.
The conference will get even tougher this season, as Ballard, Roosevelt and former 4A powerhouse Garfield will drop down to 3A and join the Metro League. Despite the challenge, both players agree that the Metro League has and will continue to make them better basketball players moving forward.
“Every team in Metro has about one or two guys that are going to be Division-I players, so its good to play against some players that I might play in college,” Worthy said.
The Metro League isn’t the only thing preparing Worthy and Thybulle for the rigors of Division-I basketball. With their AAU team Northwest Express, Worthy and Thybulle faced up against the top high school talents in the nation in EYBL’s Division A.
Northwest Express finished the AAU season with a 5-11 record and missed out on the Peach Jam, the final event of the EYBL season. Thybulle and Worthy put up solid numbers for their team, with Thybulle second on the squad in scoring with 8.9 points per game and Worthy second with 6.7 points per game.
The team was comprised of players from all around the Northwest, which made practicing very tough. Worthy believes this held the team back from being more successful in the EYBL season.
“I think as a group we played pretty well together. But I think If we were able to practice more we could have made it to the Peach Jam,” Worthy said.
Both players savored the experience against playing against some of the most talented youth players in the world, despite some of the struggles.
“It was good playing against some of the competition that people see on Youtube like Malik Newman, Alonzo Trier, all of those guys,” Worthy said. “It was a good experience to play against some competitive players.”
“I liked it because it forced me to raise my level of play to where everyone else is at and I think that made me a lot better player,” Thybulle said.
Both players finished the AAU season with more looks from Division I, especially Thybulle, whose recruitment blew up over the summer with offers from California, Gonzaga and Oregon.
Thybulle is down to the aforementioned schools, along with the University of Washington which rounds out his final four. Thybulle has three official visits planned, according to a recent story by the Oregonian: California on Aug 29, Oregon on Sept 5 and Gonzaga on Sept 27.
The Zags have been interested in Thybulle for quite while ever since Eastside Catholic participated at GU’s team camp last summer. Thybulle said Assistant Coach Brian Michaelson is the staff member that talks with him the most (about everyday), but also mentioned Head Coach Mark Few talks to him about once or twice a week as well.
Thybulle had nothing but good things to say about the GU coaching staff – especially coach Few – which he said has developed a solid relationship with.
“Coach Few is a great coach and I like their coaching staff a lot,” Thybulle said. “I think if I go there that I can work with coach Few and make something pretty great happen.”
The long and lanky wing prospect said the Gonzaga programs possesses some certain qualities that are very intriguing to him as well.
“It is no secret that Gonzaga is a winning program. I don’t think there is any basketball player out there that wouldn’t want to be on the winning team,”said Thybulle. “You can count on the fact that Gonzaga is going to make it to the NCAA tournament and I think that is every collegiate players dream to play in the highest level of college basketball there is. It’s a really exciting thought to think I could play in a program that has those types of experiences.”
At 6-foot-7, Gonzaga has never had a player with Thybulle’s physical build and skill set. Thybulle believes this can help him carve out his own niche in Gonzaga basketball history if he decides to be a Zag.
“I think if I go [to Gonzaga] I can work with Coach Few and make something pretty great happen,” Thybulle said.
While Thybulle’s name blew up in the summer, Worthy’s name flew under-the-radar. Despite this, Worthy said he was never jealous and just focused on the schools that were recruiting him.
“I don’t know if I will ever be considered a breakout player, it would be nice, but I’m pretty interested in the schools that are interested in me now,” Worthy said.
One of the school’s out of Worthy’s mouth when asked who was recruiting him the hardest? The Saint Mary’s Gaels.
According to Worthy, Assistant Coach Jim Shaw is contacting him pretty regularly, and the 6-foot-2 point guard specified the Gaels would be an appealing team to play for.
“[Saint Mary’s] and Gonzaga are always the top teams in the WCC and they have a history of putting guards in the NBA, point guards especially,” Worthy said. “They play kind of the same style as my school (Eastside Catholic), which I am interested in since they can play both fast paced and slow the game down and run their offense.”
Worhty also mentioned Saint Mary’s reputation for producing point guards and said he would be honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Mickey McConnell and Stephen Holt.
“It would be nice if I could follow in their footsteps, but we will see what happens,” Worthy said.
Currently, the Gaels have not offered but Head Coach Randy Bennett plans on heading north to visit with Worthy and watch him workout on an unspecified date in September.
Worthy said Nevada, Portland State and Montana were also showing him significant interest and Seattle, Montana State and Idaho have offered. Worthy plans on visiting Montana State on Sept. 19 and Idaho on Sept. 27.
With Saint Mary’s high on Worthy and Gonzaga heavily invested in Thybulle, there is a chance the two 2015 prospects and high school teammates will become rivals in college.
“To think that Mandrell and I could both be playing college basketball and playing against each other? That would be fun,” said Thybulle. “We’ve played with each other for so long that flipping the script and having to go against him would be a fun change.”