When Jackson Grant was on vacation with his family in Lake Chelan, around 10 years old at the time, he saw a teenager shooting hoops on a basketball court near the family’s timeshare. Grant, being plenty social even as a younger kid, went over to join him, taking turns taking shots.
That teenager was Matisse Thybulle, who went on to a stellar career at the University of Washington, capped in his senior year, in which he was recognized as the top defender in the nation with the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and the Lefty Driesell awards in 2019. Thybulle went on to be selected with the No. 20 overall pick in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft and currently plays for the Philadelphia 76ers.
That week in Chelan was more or less when Grant started following Husky basketball, just before Thybulle committed to UW.
“My grandma started taking us to games up there to watch him play after that,” Grant said.
Now, it’s Grant’s turn to suit up for the purple and gold. The Olympia High School center will be signing his National Letter of Intent with Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 11, the first day of the early signing period allowed by the NCAA for sports other than football.
The 6-foot-10 senior big man was The News Tribune and The Olympian’s 2020 All-Area player of the year in his junior season, leading the Bears to a fourth-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament, its best finish since 2011. He averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds for Olympia last season.
Following Thybulle’s career helped turn Grant into a Husky fan over the years. He’d attend games and take pictures with Thybulle after the games.
“I’ve looked up to him a lot,” Grant said. “Just his work ethic through the years. I didn’t realize how good he could be. I realize how hard that level that he’s working at is and I really respect that.”
Grant said he hopes to follow a similar trajectory over the course of his Husky career, developing as a player over four years and hopefully turning pro one day.
“I don’t see myself as being a one-and-done player,” Grant said. “I see myself really improving. (Thybulle) really laid out a groundwork to be able to follow at UW.”
Grant was fortunate enough to lock down his commitment and go through the recruitment process before the coronavirus pandemic took hold and shut everything down. He committed to Washington last November.
“I feel super fortunate about that,” he said. “Some of the guys on my (AAU) team, they’re trying to figure out where they’re going to go. It’s been hard, you can’t do any in-person visits now. Those official visits helped me more than anything else. I’m so happy I got that out of the way before everything covid hit.”
Grant took his visit to UW last September, when he took in a Husky football game, naturally, but more important, spent time around the basketball team and observed practices.
“I thought they were really big on family, inclusiveness, making sure everyone felt included in the program,” Grant said.
On paper, the rangy, long, athletic Olympia big man is an ideal fit for Mike Hopkins’ system at UW, where he covets that type of player in the 2-3 zone on the defensive end of the floor. On offense, it’s Grant’s versatility that should make him a productive player for the Huskies. He can play in the post, but also has the touch to float out to the 3-point line and make shots on the perimeter.
“I see myself really fitting in defensively, in the middle of the zone or one of those lower wing spots,” Grant said. “I can cover the floor well, I’m long, athletic. I can defend the rim and rebound well. Offensively, I think I have a lot of talent, posting up, shooting outside. I can be a help wherever they need me, whether it’s inside or outside.”
Grant, who weighed around 200 pounds during his junior season, wanted to bulk up and become an unstoppable force during his junior high school season — which as of now, is still up in the air with coronavirus cases once again surging in the area.
The shutdown has allowed him to focus on the weight room. Grant said he’s added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame and has noticed it in his game, playing in various tournaments in Arizona and in small pods with the high school, when allowed.
“I can feel it in my game,” he said. “I feel stronger. Mostly, playing in the post and driving to the basket with contact, I feel like I can handle the ball better. … Without as much basketball, I’ve lifted more consistently in these past months than I ever have before.”
Grant plans on playing his senior season, even if it’s eventually pushed to the spring, and enrolling at UW next fall. Like mostly everyone else, he misses normalcy — walking through crowded hallways in the high school, playing basketball without restrictions and the energy of the crowd during high school basketball games.
“It’s been hard,” he said. “I didn’t really realize how much I appreciated being in school, being able to see everybody until it was gone. That routine of having normal practices, normal games — it’s been hard mentally for a lot of people to stay focused and keep pushing toward your goals. … I’m just lifting with the team, running, just staying in shape the best I can.”
SOUTH SOUND ATHLETES MOVING ON TO NEXT LEVEL
Jackson Grant, Washington, basketball
Avi Vetter, Stanford, beach volleyball
Kailey Bass, Grand Canyon, golf
Linsey Lovrovich, Boise State, basketball
Bryce Cerkowniak, Gonzaga, cross country and track
Connor Shoup, Washington, rowing
Lulu Brady, Whitworth, track and field
Adaji Osaro Igwe, Harvard, track and field
Matt Lewis, Lower Columbia CC, baseball
Zach Owens, Wenatchee CC, baseball
Rylen Bayne, Bellevue Community College, baseball
Samuel Canton, Gonzaga, baseball
Julianna Walker, Syracuse, basketball
Tyler Peterson, Lower Columbia CC, baseball
If you’d like an athlete included in this list on the online version of this story, email [email protected] with the athlete’s first and last name, their high school, their college and sport.
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