After watching four games in four days – in two cities 675 miles apart – no one is happier than Nate Britt Sr. and his wife, Melody, that North Carolina and Villanova are both in the Final Four .
The Britts were on hand for UNC’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight victories in Philadelphia to watch their son Nate Britt II. They were also in Louisville, Ky. for their other son, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins.
“We weren’t going to miss a one,” Britt Sr. said. “We couldn’t help it. God-willing, we were going to make every game, and we were fortunate enough to make every game, never missed a tip-off.”
The Britts have been Jenkins’s legal guardians since 2007, taking him in at the request of his mother, Felicia.
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It was basketball that brought them together. The families first crossed paths at an AAU tournament in Florida in 2004, when the boys were 10 years old. Jenkins’ team lost to Britt’s team, which was coached by Britt Sr.
The next summer, Jenkins’s father, Kelvin (who had recently separated from Jenkins’s mother), contacted Britt Sr. about Jenkins playing on Britt’s D.C. Assault team. The young Jenkins spent much of the summer at the Britt’s house while Felicia Jenkins was at Johns Hopkins Hospital with her infant daughter, Kori, who died at 11 months old.
Felicia Jenkins had moved her family from the Baltimore area to Columbia, S.C., where she was the head coach at Division II Benedict College, but she sensed this wasn’t the best place for her middle-school-aged son. So she asked the Britts if they would consider taking Jenkins permanently.
“It was really surprising,” Britt Sr. said of the request. “When someone reached out to me about their 10-year-old son, and I could see that he was an exceptional talent, but, you know, we had a family. And I had a young daughter. And you just don’t know how things – they could go bad, you just don’t know. I just believed. I took a step out there on faith and just believed.”
Britt Jr. remembers a family meeting where his parents gave him and his sister the news about Jenkins joining them permanently.
“We just said okay and took it by the horns, and it happened,” Britt Jr. said. “Like, Kris was such a great person that it was easy for all of us. He only added to our family.”
“It was tough at first, but the Britts, they accepted me,” said Jenkins, who still keeps in touch with Kelvin and Felicia, who is now an assistant . “The whole family just made me feel so welcome, and they accepted me for who I was and elevated me as a person and made me better. It’s something that I’m always thankful for. I thank God for it every day.”
Growing up, Britt and Jenkins were ultra-competitive – just like brothers. As Jenkins put it: “We hate to lose more than we like winning. That’s it right there.”
Everything, including a trip up the stairs, was a competition. The last one up had to go back down and turn off all the (purposely) left-on lights.
One of the more tense moments came during the 2013 NCAA tournament, when UNC played Villanova in the first round during Britt and Jenkins’s senior year of high school. The two watched the Tar Heels’ 78-71 win in the same room, but did not speak. Instead, they texted each other.
“We were texting back and forth, play-by-play, we were saying stuff to each other, talking a little trash here and there,” said Britt, who was quick to point out that UNC won.
That was the beginning of the two brothers envisioning an NCAA tournament meeting while they were in college. If the Wildcats beat Oklahoma and UNC defeats Syracuse on Saturday, then it will happen in the national championship game. Should that come to pass, the Britts will split their time between the Tar Heels and Villanova family cheering sections.
“How can you root for one and not necessarily root the other one?” Britt Sr. “That’s not something that is even possible in your heart.”
“That’s my brother, man,” Jenkins said of Britt. “We’ve been through everything together, grew up together. We’re not blood, but anything closer than that, that’s what we are.”
Traveling to watch the brothers
To pull off watching the two brothers in four games in four days in March, the Britts flew on March 24 from Washington, D.C., where the Britts live, through Charlotte, where their daughter, Natalia, a basketball player at Belmont Abbey College, joined them. From there, the three flew two Louisville for Villanova’s March 24 game against Miami.
After the Wildcats’ 92-69 win, Britt Sr. woke up at 4 a.m. March 25 to fly back to Maryland and check on the dog and their house. Melody and Natalia flew home later in the day, and Britt Sr. picked them up at the airport and drove straight to Philadelphia for the Tar Heels’ 101-86 pounding of Indiana.
Saturday morning, the Britts made the 10-hour drive to Louisville in time for Villanova’s 7:50 p.m. tipoff against Kansas. They spent the night celebrating the Wildcats’ Final Four berth with other families before waking up at sunrise on Sunday for the drive back to Philadelphia and Britt’s game against Notre Dame.
“We’ve done things like that ever since they’ve been involved in sports,” Britt Sr. said of the half-country commute. “After we got used to doing what we do, even last weekend, that was just something that we had to do.
“Sometimes we don’t think about the things that we do when we’re in the midst of doing them. It’s not such a big deal. It wasn’t a big deal to us.”
Unbeknownst to his brother, Jenkins flew to Philadelphia later in the day so he, too, could be at the game with his family, sitting behind the UNC bench.
Britt saw Jenkins during player introductions. He didn’t wave, but he made a mental note.
“It just gave me more motivation that we had to win that game,” Britt said, “so we could make it to the Final Four as well.”