June 28, 2020
Yale Bulldogs pick up 2021 recruit Grace Thybulle
Head coach Allison Guth picks up a natural post player and another rim protector to complement Camilla Emsbo
Grace Thybulle got butterflies in her stomach when she imagined herself wearing Yale’s navy blue and white uniform.
To her, that was enough of an indicator. Her decision was made. Thybulle was well sought-after by the Ivy League, receiving offers from Columbia, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Brown.
But this past Tuesday, she announced that Yale had landed the 6’3 forward from Irvington, NY.
“It was this gut feeling and I couldn’t really find anything that I disliked about it, and I was like, Well, I think that means that’s where I want to go,” Thybulle told The Next.
When discussing how she made her decision, Thybulle remembered how her brother Sidney described his freshman year playing Division III basketball at Johns Hopkins. “He became such instantaneous friends with everyone on his team and they became so close because they’re so like-minded,” she said. “They care a lot about sports, they’re really invested in athletics, but they’re also just super intelligent people and have a lot of the same values.” She wanted an environment that fostered well-rounded individuals.
And her name may ring a bell for some. Basketball is all in the family. Once she made her decision, her family was the first to know, including first cousin Matisse, who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. The former Washington Husky praised Grace on FaceTime and Instagram, calling her “officially the coolest member of the family.”
When asked about the exchange, Grace told The Next that she replied to her cousin with disbelief and a tad bit of sarcasm. “Okay, we can pretend that I’m the coolest member of the family,” she told him.
Five-year head coach Allison Guth and her approach to coaching also attracted Thybulle. She sees Guth’s methodology as well balanced. With an energetic and eccentric personality, Guth cultivates an environment that is positive but also constructive, rather than a space that “demeans anyone.” Thybulle could tell that the entire team vibed well with Guth and the rest of the coaching staff. She discerned that trust is a must for the Bulldogs.
“And you could tell [Guth] really really cares about how people feel and people’s experiences,” she said. “I really deeply trust her from the time I’ve known her and I’m sure that it will just strengthen once I get there. But yeah, she’s just really, really cool and creates this environment that I really, really am looking forward to being a part of.”
Clicking with Guth is one thing, but Thybulle hit it off with the 2019-2020 roster. On an overnight recruiting visit, she was introduced to this season’s team captain, senior Megan Gorman. She expressed to Thybulle how this program is founded on “building something” rather than stepping onto a team with a well-established reputation. Gorman also told Thybulle that as a senior, she’s able to see the efforts of the former seniors and previous team captains when she was a first-year “paying off.” In her four years, Gorman’s teammates got exponentially better.
“[Gorman] also said something about how like there’s something really nice about building something and not just stepping into something,” Thybulle said. “Building your own improvement, building your own name, rather than just like kind of stepping into a winning streak.”
Thybulle also met Yale’s first-ever five-star recruit, Camilla Emsbo. The Yale sophomore finished sixth overall in Ivy League scoring this year, notching 15 points per game. She also finished in third, right behind Princeton’s Bella Alarie, in blocks with 62. “She was one of the coolest people I’ve ever met,” Thybulle said of Emsbo.
What does Thybulle bring to the Bulldogs?
It’s very clear that Yale has a lot to offer Thybulle, but what does she have to offer Yale? Playing for Irvington High School and for her AAU team Hoopers NY, Thybulle has developed into an efficient post player and a leader on both sides of the floor. She values defense; it must run in the family.
Thybulle has great hands and if she’s lobbed the ball up high from long, she’s almost untouchable on her incline toward the hoop. Due to some sharpshooting guards around her during her high school and AAU career, Thybulle hasn’t had as many opportunities to flash her fluid follow-through. She does have a mid-range jumper and a 3-point shooting ability in her arsenal.
In her junior season, she averaged an 18-10 scoring and rebounding double-double. Using her athleticism and strength, she’s an elite rebounder both on the offensive and the defensive glass. Now, back to her defense. In addition to being a post who can seamlessly block shots, Thybulle is incredibly cerebral on defense, as she can read opposing point guards and understand what they run.
She understands how to turn rim protection and defense into offense. Within her sophomore year highlight reel, a sequence at 1:46 illustrates that principle.
Thybulle tipped a pass that was intended to land outside of the block, then dove to the baseline to prevent the ball from bouncing out of bounds. One she got a hand on the ball in the air, she batted it to her teammate standing wide open in the key. In less than 10 seconds, Thybulle had already run the floor so she could score on the opposite end in transition off her own blocked pass.
In the 2019-20 regular season, the Bulldogs’ rebounding offense and defense struggled, as they finished sixth in the Ivy League in both metrics. They finished dead last in offensive boards and their overall rebounding margin was -1.4 for another sixth-place finish. Thybulle can help improve all of the above with her size and strength.
But she realizes that, in order to adjust to the Division I game, she’ll need to be aware of which areas she needs to improve. Right off the bat, Thybulle mentioned her ball-handling skills and her speed. She’s conscious of the innate value of versatility at every position and how positionless basketball is the name of the game.
She embraces her role and identity as a true post but is also willing to expand upon her skills that she hasn’t necessarily gotten a chance to perfect and evolve. “And I guess I just have to shift into getting more comfortable taking 3-pointers,” Thybulle said. “In the past, I really haven’t had to because I had [graduated Irvington point guard] Abby [Conklin]. Why would I take it when I could just kick it to her?”
When Thybulle gets to New Haven in fall 2021, that cool person she met, 6’5 Camilla Emsbo, will be a senior. Although Guth has recruited some wings and 6’2 small forwards for 2020, having another post threat who can play the three through five inside will only complement Emsbo. According to Guth, it’s always been in the cards for Emsbo to shoot more threes and shift to a point-forward role, leaving Thybulle acting as the Nneka Ogwumike to Emsbo’s Candace Parker.
Like many WNBA champions, Thybulle’s bottom line is to win with as much hustle as possible. She could care less about her own statistical achievements and accolades.
“This has kind of always been my mantra with playing and with the style of my game,” she told The Next. “I want to be whatever I have to be to win. So whether that means I’m getting every loose ball, I’m getting every rebound, I’m making like a system of kicking out to the corner for the three from the middle every play, I’m just going to be whoever I have to be. I’m not necessarily concerned about scoring the most or having the most blocks. I’m just gonna do what’s necessary in that game, just all those hustle points.”
With a focus on player development along with a supportive environment to grow and challenge herself, Thybulle remains elevated by the endless opportunities in the classroom and on the court.
Written by Jackie Powell
Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.