MEMPHIS, Tenn. — He saw what happened from a different vantage point this time, with North Carolina the exuberant winner rather than the heartbroken loser, but the common thread in the two most decisive jump shots of the Tar Heels’ past two seasons was that Kris Jenkins was delighted by both of them.
That’s odd, but it’s true.
Because last year when North Carolina was part of an NCAA Tournament game that was decided by a buzzer-beating jumper, it was Jenkins who fired the shot. He hit the 3-pointer that broke a tie in the final seconds of the 2016 championship game and delivered the title to Villanova. Jenkins was, in Chapel Hill, an archvillain.
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This year, he sat in the front row behind the North Carolina bench cheering for his brother, Heels guard Nate Britt, and watched as sophomore forward Luke Maye nailed an 18-foot jump shot with three-tenths of a second left to defeat Kentucky 75-73 in the NCAA South Region final and send the Tar Heels on to Phoenix and the 2017 Final Four. Suddenly, Jenkins was a Carolina superfan.
“I’m just thinking that the game isn’t over until it’s all zeros on that clock,” Jenkins told Sporting News. “Whenever there’s time on that clock, they have time to win. It was a heck of a shot, a tough shot.
“I’m just so happy for my brother and his team. For them to get back to this point has taken a lot of hard work and dedication on their part. Hopefully, they can continue to win and win it and so we can have two championships in our house.”
Britt and Jenkins are an atypical set of brothers. They forged their bond as teens after Jenkins’ mother, Felicia, took a job coaching Division II basketball in South Carolina and did not like how Kris was behaving after keeping company with the young people there. She made the painful decision to send Kris to live with the Britt family in Upper Marlboro, Md.
They had become friends as teammates in AAU basketball, and Kris had stayed with the Britt family to continue playing with the team there. Eventually, in 2007, the Britts became Kris’ legal guardians.
Kris had hoped not to be in attendance for this past weekend’s games in Memphis, He had planned on playing in Madison Square Garden with his Villanova teammates. But they were upset by Wisconsin in the second round, so he decided to come and watch as Nate and the Tar Heels pursued a second consecutive Final Four.
Britt was asked in the Tar Heels' locker room afterward whether he saw what had just occurred as similar to Jenkins’ shot that beat his team in the final last year.
“I’m going to say no,” Britt said with a smile. “I’m not going to give him any credit for Luke making that shot. I’m not going to go with that at all. I’m going to go with it was similar to Wisconsin-Florida.”
Asked to rank Maye’s shot to make the Final Four against his own championship-winning moment of magic, Jenkins offered an amiable “no comment” and then chuckled.
“This is their moment. That’s a great win for them,” he said.