HOUSTON — Villanova’s Kris Jenkins calmly tossed the ball to Ryan Arcidiacono, 4.7 seconds and approximately 70 feet away from the first true buzzer-beater and greatest ending in college basketball title game history. Arcidiacono took six dribbles as he snaked his way up the floor. Jenkins was playing possum by trailing but not rushing too fast; he didn’t want to scare the defense, and he knew he’d have the space.
Jenkins’ defender, Isaiah Hicks, followed the ball, not the man. The double-team inevitably came on Arcidiacono when Joel Berry II — and then Hicks — picked him up.
Right then, the Villanova senior heard a voice. He heard Jenkins bark.
“ARCH! ARCH! ARCH”
FOR THE TITLE?!?! WHAT??!https://t.co/aFvWVQDEr9
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 5, 2016
Game on the line, Arcidiacono gave the ball up. Villanova’s most defining trait is a team of trust. So ‘Arch’ went instinctive, and coolly, casually passed to a trotting and trailing Jenkins.
“He’s one of the smartest basketball players we’ve ever had,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Jenkins.
Get the feet set. Shot up. Hicks’ hand in his face but not there in time to alter the shot.
“So when Arch threw me the ball,” Jenkins said. “One, two step, shoot ’em up, sleep in the streets.”
Stand, then crouch, pray, and wait. Wait for overtime. Or for history and the greatest ending to an NCAA Championship Game.
As Jenkins’ shot was going up, Melody Britt, one of Jenkins’ mothers, was in the lower concourse of NRG Stadium and watching the game on one of the TV screens. According to her Fitbit, she’d taken more than 10,000 steps over the previous two hours, walking more than 15 times around the concourse and taking breaks by sitting near the exits.
“One of the ladies out there said, ‘Do you have a twin? Because I’ve seen a lady like you walk past here a couple of times,'” Britt said.
The anxiety was too much. She couldn’t watch that close to the court. The roars of the crowd stirred her. She couldn’t eat or drink a thing either.
“It was too emotional,” she said. “I didn’t want to keep switching sides. I couldn’t stay on either side.”
Jenkins is Britt’s son by law and love. Nate Britt, the UNC junior guard, is her son by birth. She could not and would not choose a seat. So she walked away her anxiety until no time was left to bide.
She’s watching on a screen as Jenkins’ shot goes up. It hangs. As it curls toward the hoop, teammates Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are already running toward the floor. Jenkins’ other mother, his birth mother, is in the main Villanova fan section and leaned up against the railing in the middle of the aisle between sections 107 and 108, about ready to have her mind blown and body shocked to the floor.
“We’re immortal now,” Villanova junior Darryl Reynolds said. “It’s raw. As much as this earth can give you. We’re immortal now. This moment will be cemented in history for ever. I think this is the greatest shot in NCAA history. Not to take nothing from Mr. Laettner. You know, he’s a great ball player but … this, for the championship game, for that to be the end of the season? And it’s crazy! That’s what this tournament has been the whole time! You think about all these crazy shots going on, all these last-second tip-ins, buzzer beaters and stuff? For that to be the last shot is crazy.”
The winning play, dripping in symbolism, is named “Nova.” It’s run in every Villanova practice. It is their go-to with less than eight seconds remaining in a game. It is the play Scottie Reynolds scored on in 2009 to vault Villanova to the Final Four.
It will now be known, even more so, for blasting Villanova into history and highlight reels forever. Jenkins was the play’s last — but also best — option.
This, by the way, coming after one of the all-time are-you-kidding-me-right-now shots by Marcus Paige, the final make of his career an absolute stunner.
“The shot Marcus Paige shot was an unbelievable shot,” Jenkins said.
The shot that made popcorn out of seat cushions would be topped.
“If we didn’t have a timeout the guys would have known to run that play,” Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy said.
So Jenkins is bent down. And then, with a kaboom, the ball gently cradles through the net. Villanova 77, North Carolina 74. Pandemonium, confusion, bolts from the blue.
“I don’t know what I did, but it went in,” Jenkins said. “I just stood there. One seconds, two seconds, bang.”
Streamers shotgun out from above, diving and cascading to the floor as Villanova celebrates its second title in program history.
And here comes Melody Britt like a contestant on “The Price is Right,” barreling down 67 steps between sections 125 and 126, busting through people to get to her husband, Nate Britt, Sr., who is in tears over what he’s just seen his son do.
What was Jenkins believing when the the shot went up?
“Ball game,” he said.
As her son is mobbed by his teammates, Felicia Jenkins is pinned up against a railing and in total shock, looking at Phil Booth’s mother and wondering if this could be true life. She’s looking at the people around her, wondering if they believe what she’s just seen.
“I grabbed them and asked, ‘What just happened? What just happened?” she said. “It was a moment in time. Like, still. Then you catch yourself — and you take off. And you go find somebody who can share this with you.”
She found her son in a hurry. Climbing over the stands, onto the press table and into his arms.
“What can they say now? All they ever did was doubt me my whole life,” Jenkins said. “But one thing they can’t doubt or take away from us is we national champs and we’re gonna hold that forever.”
Jenkins is then back on the floor for just a moment. While everyone else celebrates on the court, Felicia makes her way to the other side of the floor, to the first row of section 124. Natalya Britt, Jenkins’ sister, hops over the railing. Kris lifts her off the ground and they bearhug for more than 20 seconds. She is squeezed and smiling.
Natalya can’t stop smiling and laughing.
“I’m so sorry — I’m so in shock right now!” Natalya said. “He hugged us as his own.”
While his teammates celebrated on the court, Kris Jenkins ran over to embrace his birth parents and the Britt family pic.twitter.com/setr5ICFe1
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) April 5, 2016
Eventually, Nate Britt, Sr. and Jenkins’ two mothers, Felicia and Melody, all embrace. Britt is streaming tears down his face.
“He’s not emotional at all, not at all,” Melody Britt said. “He does not show his feelings.”
The moment is so big, to be so closely connected to one of college basketball’s greatest moments ever.
“The whole family, they changed my life,” Jenkins said. “I owe them everything.”
It was a primary story line all week. Kris’ parents giving him up a decade ago, letting him grow up with the Britts so he’d have a better life, better chances at a bigger future. What happened in Houston, Texas, on Monday night was beyond a movie script.
“Nobody really understood the hard work and dedication it took from my family, from both families,” Jenkins said.
It’s a bond only the Britts and Jenkins can fully understand. Felicia Jenkins completely entrusted another family, living multiple states and hundreds of miles away, to take their son as a middle-schooler and raise him on a different path.
“This is one of the most incredible moments of our lives,” Nate Britt, Sr. said. “To watch our son hit the winning shot, something that he’s practiced on countless days and nights in the gym, and …”
Britt, Sr. can’t go on. He’s crying too hard to say anything else.
“We used to argue,” he said in a stammer. “I said, ‘Man, you got to hit this shot. You gotta get your footwork down. You gotta [unintelligible due to the crying]. It’s the only way you can be confident enough to hit it every time, and you’ve gotta believe it’s going in every time. And I sat there and told my brother beside me, after Marcus (Paige) hit that shot, I said, ‘Kris is coming down, and he’s going to answer.’ I knew it.”
“I knew it too,” Melody said.
“I knew if it touched his hands, it’s over,” Britt, Sr. said.
“We’ve won,” Britt, Sr. said. “I feel very bad for Nate and the Tar Heels, because that’s our son. I know how he feels. But the best team won. It was Kris’ night. It’s bittersweet. He’s probably a little hurt, but his brother hit the shot, and he’ll tell you, I guarantee he’ll tell you, ‘I knew it was going in.'”
True to that, these were Britt’s words in the locker room afterward: “He has a knack for knocking down big shots. I’ve been in a game like that. You could see it happening. All of a sudden I could see where he was getting the ball and I knew he would probably knock it down. You could kind of see it. Arch was penetrating and Kris was trailing the play. He basically walked right into the shot. That’s like a layup for him.”
There is an incredible dynamic to what played out for the Britt and Jenkins families on Monday night. It was pure elation — on both ends.
“Nate is just like a son to me,” Felicia Jenkins said. “One wins, one loses, but the family wins. It’s in the house.”
Kris has those Jenkins family shoulders. Those big shoulders, strong ones that Felicia told him he’d need to carry a team on. He lifted the sport off its hinges on Monday night.
“If Carolina was to lose, that was the best way to lose,” Natalya Britt said. “That was absolutely perfect. I was in shock. I’m still in shock.”
So is everyone else. You almost never get endings like that, and in terms of the man and his family bond behind it all, it’s the very best of sports. Before “One Shining Moment” began, Jenkins was enveloped by his family. His sweaty jersey was soaking his father’s shirt. Eventually, Dunleavy made his way off the court and down to the family to get Kris back on the floor.
“Kris, TV needs you,” he said.
TV would wait.
There was no letting go, not for a couple more minutes. Jenkins’ epic shot culminated the tournament’s most powerful story. The heart of it was on display in front of section 125, a family reunion, and at the center of it, an NCAA Tournament legend.