- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Somebody was going to lose in Monday night’s epic NCAA men’s basketball championship, but it was not going to be Steve Turner.

Settled into his seat at the 4 Corners Pub in Silver Spring, the Gonzaga College High School boys’ basketball coach watched with pride as two of his former stars, one in North Carolina white and blue, one in Villanova’s dark navy, battled each other on the sport’s grandest stage.

And when one of his former charges, Villanova forward Kris Jenkins, hit the already iconic 3-pointer that sealed the Wildcats’ 77-74 victory, the sense of satisfaction was all the sweeter.

Turner has coached scores of talent at Gonzaga the last 17 years — 12 as coach at the all-boys Jesuit school in Washington — but no two players with a bond as strong as the one forged between Villanova’s Jenkins and North Carolina guard Nate Britt.

In 2006, Jenkins‘ mother, Felicia, felt it was best that Kris relocate from South Carolina and live with Nate and Melody Britt in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. In 2007, the Britts became Kris Jenkins‘ legal guardians. Jenkins flourished on the court alongside his new brother, playing with Nate Jr. for the D.C. Assault team on the AAU circuit and later at Gonzaga.

“I mean, it was special,” Turner said of their relationship. “For a mom to trust in another family to take on her child and put him in an environment that will give him the same love and nurturing he was able to get from her, and to see them forge the relationship that has become those two being brothers, has become unique and pretty special.”

Turner could hardly contain his emotion as North Carolina and Villanova traded blows in the final seconds. Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige hit a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining to tie the score at 74. Paige’s shot seemed improbable as he double-clutched and kicked his legs as he heaved a prayer.

What happened next was even more unthinkable. Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono received the inbounds pass from Jenkins and dribbled around Daniel Ochefu’s screen. Jenkins, uncovered, hustled to trail the play and was wide-open. Arcidiacono zipped the ball to Jenkins, who nailed the 3-pointer and helped Villanova to its first national championship in 31 years, creating a moment that will live on as one of the best in the history of the tournament.

Watching the game 1,500 miles from Houston’s NRG Stadium, Turner erupted with joy when the shot went in, and then the tears flowed.

“[The feeling] was one of a proud dad watching his child,” Turner said.

Appearing on “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday, Jenkins said, “I think every shot I take is going in, so that one felt no different.” After Monday’s loss, Britt told USA Today he knew Jenkins was going to nail the shot. Replays during the game broadcast showed Villanova’s stoic coach, Jay Wright, uttering one word as Jenkins released the game-winning shot: Bang.

At The 4 Corners Pub, Turner jumped up and screamed, “It’s a wrap,” before the shot went in. There was a never doubt, not just because it was his former player taking the shot, but because Jenkins hit that shot so many times before. The most memorable once came during his junior season in a showcase game against Patterson High School and Baltimore star Aquille Carr. Britt missed the game because of an injury and Gonzaga trailed, 73-72, with two seconds left. After an errant shot, the ball was tipped to Jenkins at the 3-point line and he drained it.

On Monday, Turner was confident in the result before it happened.

“As soon as he caught the ball, I screamed out in the middle of the restaurant,” Turner said. “I knew as soon as he got the ball, he was going to score that basket.”

After the game, Jenkins was asked what it felt like to win a championship against his brother, nonetheless by delivering the final blow.

Nate is my brother. I love him,” Jenkins said. “To play against each other in the national championship, it was something special for our family. I’m happy that we won, for sure, so I don’t have to hear him talk smack.”

As equally as exhilarating the win was for Jenkins and Villanova, it was crushing for Britt and North Carolina. While somebody had to ultimately lose on the court, it was a moment Turner and the Gonzaga community will cherish for years to come.

“It’s just a blessing, their whole relationship and how it came together and the fact that they’re battling each other, it was a dream for both of them to be able to not just get to a national championship, but to win one,” Turner said. “As much as you can say Carolina lost and Nate lost the game, I don’t think there were any losers in this. I know even in Nate’s defeat, he’s very proud of Kris and excited for what happens for him and his university.”


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