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  • Writer's pictureJosh Banner

Johns Hopkins' Sidney Thybulle Is Just Fine Not Fitting In

Sidney Thybulle towered over his classmates.

“It’s funny, kids would always be like, ‘You hit your growth spurt early. We’ll grow up. We’ll catch up,’” he said.

He now stands at a whopping 6 feet, 8 inches.

“They never caught up,” Sidney said with a smile.

Make that a somewhat forced smile.

Fitting in at Irvington

Raised in the small village of Irvington, New York, Sidney Thybulle always wanted to fit in.

“It was a predominantly white, affluent area,” Sidney Thybulle said. “And it was me who was like, this tall, Black kid [who] sticks out like a sore thumb.”

Thybulle may have employed a bit of understatement with “predominantly white.” According to World Population Review, Irvington has a Black population of a mere 0.18%.

And while he absolutely loves his hometown and the people with whom he grew up, Sidney Thybulle found it not so easy being Sidney Thybulle.

“The struggles were moreso like … I want to be like this kid or I always want to fit in with this crowd,” Sidney Thybulle said.

His sister, Grace, just five inches shorter than her older brother, shared a similar tale.

“In our community, it was hard for us not to stand out,” Grace Thybulle said. “We’re both pretty, pretty big people walking around in our small town. We’re also some of the few people of color that live in our area, so there was really no flying under the radar.”

As the siblings grew older, they started impressing with basketball. And they felt an added responsibility to live up to the high expectations seemingly placed upon them.

“Both of us faced a lot of the same pressures . . . just because, I would say in a sense, both of us were like community figures,” Grace Thybulle said. “There was a certain pressure to perform.”

As Sidney’s height helped him excel on the court, he began questioning whether he still needed to worry about fitting in. Could his differences be a gift as opposed to a burden?

This perplexing possible change in perspective began about the same time as his first game at Irvington High School. The freshman received the honor of not only playing varsity, but also against the school’s rival, Dobbs Ferry.

Life, however, doesn’t always provide smooth transitions.

“Two upperclassmen had gotten into a scuffle,” Sidney Thybulle said. “I tried to get in between it and I ended up shoving this kid and he shoved me back and the ref threw both of us out.”

After the game, the freshman broke down.

“I was in the locker room crying because I was like … I messed up my chance,” Sidney Thybulle said.

Hard to fit in when you’ve been thrown out.

But he learned from that game, and he used it as fuel for the future.

“I think that’s what kind of propelled me to the career I ended up having,” Sidney Thybulle said.

What a career it was. As a consistent starter he averaged about 12 points and 10 rebounds per game while helping Irvington High win a title. On top of that, he became a three-time all-league and two-time all-state selection.

“It was something that I embraced … just playing in front of the whole school,” Sidney Thybulle said. “It’s an upbringing that’s made me who I am today.”

Photos by Johns Hopkins Athletic Dept.

Joining Johns Hopkins

The importance of basketball in Sidney Thybulle’s life never out ranked academics.

“That’s something I pride myself on – just really taking academics seriously.”

With an SAT score of 1500, he had to find the perfect place to continue pursuing his passion for athletics and academics.

He found that place in the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, donning the black and blue – although orange remains his favorite color.

Who claims orange as a favorite color? Sidney Thybulle does.

At his new home in Baltimore, he has continued exercising both his brain and brawn: he made the All-Conference team as well as the Dean’s List for his computer science studies.

“Every other [major] looked boring to me,” Sidney Thybulle said. “So, I was like, I’ll try computer science.”

Who admits to picking a major that way? Sidney Thybulle does.

“It’s been a great program,” Sidney Thybulle said. “It’s very challenging and very robust, but it’s definitely … I don’t want to say fun, but intellectually stimulating.”

That’s because “fun” for Sidney is kicking back with some nice - astrophysics. Yes, astrophysics.

Who equates fun and astrophysics? Sidney Thybulle does.

What happened to the guy who needs to fit in?

“You don’t really realize that’s not the goal or importance in life until you’re a little older and more mature,” Sidney Thybulle said.

“I realized that who I was and the fact that I was different was something to cherish and something that I could really just enjoy. I feel like I’ve been myself since high school, and [I’ve] really just grown into the man I am today.”

But whether it is tackling a tough class, figuring out how to best come off a screen, or blissfully trying to understand the universe, none serve as a match for Thybulle’s work ethic.

“Sidney is someone that works hard at anything he is passionate about and is committed to,” assistant coach Ricky Hernandez said.

His hard work helped him take a giant leap forward in the 2021-22 season. Coming off a freshman year where he did not see much action and a sophomore season where the pandemic shut everything down, he became a star as a junior.

In the grand stage of the conference championship game against Swarthmore, Thybulle delivered a statement “and-one” dunk that brought the crowd to their feet.

“That moment, I was like we’re winning this game,” Sidney Thybulle said. “We’re conference champs.”

The dunk put the team up 13 points early in the second half. He concedes it could have been 14 had he not missed the free throw that followed.

“I was just so pumped up. I think I just kind of blacked out.”

Although the Blue Jays had lost to Swarthmore twice that season, the late-February night would write a different tale, winning, 80-66.

Sidney Thybulle went on to win Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Year while leading the conference in field goal percentage (63.3%), ranking second in the conference for rebounds per game (7.3) and ranking fourth in the conference regarding blocks per game (1.4).

Although he made big statistical contributions to the team, some of his greatest contributions could not be summarized by numbers.

“Sidney is an incredible human being … He’s very easy to be around, very easy to like, very easy to talk to, and just has a really good personality,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s allowed him to be successful at whatever he’s done [this] far in his life.”

Likewise, Sidney has a deep fondness for his team.

“We’re all best friends. I like to say [that] I have 18 best friends in this locker room.”

They grew close during the season through activities such as what they call “eternal sit mode.”

“We’ll just sit down, lay on the floor in the locker room … and just hang out, just talking about whatever,” Sidney Thybulle said.

And feel free to guess whether Sidney cares if others find “eternal sit mode” odd.

This is not to say that he no longer has an awareness of his differences.

“I understand that a lot of times, just being a 6’8” Black kid, people are going to look at me,” Sidney Thybulle said. “That’s, again, a great opportunity to set a good example.”

“Sid’s a great teammate, but he’s an even better person,” said teammate and roommate Tom Quarry. “I’m so glad that I get to play basketball with him.”

Being a year older, Quarry has been a major influence on Sidney Thybulle.

“[Quarry] really is a great friend, and a great person, and a great, great leader on this team,” Sidney Thybulle said. “I can’t say enough about him. I really love the kid.”

With Quarry about to graduate, the team put together a senior banquet, with a majority of the work done by one man in particular.

“Sid kind of orchestrated the whole thing without any help,” Quarry said. “He gave, like, the best speech … [He] spoke so well about our team and the other people on our team to the point where my parents and other parents were coming up to me, like, ‘Sid is so well-spoken.’”

To Quarry, that story best summarized Sidney Thybulle’s heart of gold.

“[Sidney]’s just so nice,” Quarry said. “It’s funny, because you would never know he is this extremely competitive person who plays with a real fire and a real edge.”

Guided by his mantra of “just keep going,” Sidney Thybulle has come a long way from struggling to fit in to now feeling completely comfortable hosting a senior banquet.

“He’s a great basketball player,” Hernandez said. “But, I think that pales in comparison to the person that he is.”

Family Matters

Family remains an important part of Sidney Thybulle’s life. He has a fantastic relationship with his parents, crediting them as an inspiration for his dynamic persona.

“Just watching them do what they do is how I think I just became a hardworking person,” Sidney Thybulle said. “And becoming a hardworking person has just kind of led me to be more centered in all areas of my life.”

He also believes that his mom’s incredible cooking, particularly her beans and rice, have a large part to do with his, well, largeness.

Another familial influence and source of inspiration comes from his cousin, Matisse Thybulle, two-time NBA All-Defensive shooting guard for the Philadelphia 76ers.

“We are pretty close,” Sidney Thybulle said.

He points to his cousin as someone who has helped him get through the mental gymnastics of dealing with pressure from others that comes with being an athletic figure.

“Especially towards the end of the year, between multiple things he was facing from the press and from the public, he didn’t really let any of it bother him,” Sidney Thybulle said. “He kind of just kept tunnel vision. He just went out and played ball. I really appreciated that.”

So it appears that not worrying what others think might be genetic.

And then there is Sidney’s best friend in the world, also known as his sister Grace. Much like Sidney, she has dominated on the basketball court, winning the MVP and the state championship for her high school team during her sophomore season. She also now plays college basketball at a rather esteemed institution: Yale.

“I guess it speaks to how good of a job our parents did,” Sidney Thybulle said. “Just making sure we were disciplined and [we] really took school seriously.

Grace considers her big brother her “greatest supporter,” helping her as she went through her own journey.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from him [is] just like … as much as we both love the sport and as much as we’d learn from the sport, there’s a lot in life that’s bigger than basketball,” Grace Thybulle said. “He’s just really the kind of person that helps me put into perspective a lot that happens in my life.”

He also holds the title of her number one fan.

“I just remember, right after we won the state championship, he ran up to me and gave me a hug and he was crying,” Grace Thybulle said. “I really don’t see him cry often. It’s definitely a sight to see most men cry. But just seeing how happy he was for me, that he was moved to tears, I immediately burst out into tears just because I was so happy that I could share that moment with him.”

What 6 foot 8 man cries in public? Sidney Thybulle does.

He also does not mind when his mother counters his intimidating on-court persona by telling people that her baby boy loves to love.

“Fitting in isn’t really my vibe anymore,” Sidney Thybulle said with a smile.

Make that a completely unforced smile.

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