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Nate Britt and Kris Jenkins, brought together as brothers, could meet in title game

Nate Britt II and Kris Jenkins -- brothers by choice, not by blood -- watched the North Carolina Tar Heels and Villanova Wildcats face off in the 2013 NCAA tournament from opposite ends of a room in their home in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Britt, decked out in Tar Heels gear, and Jenkins, representing the Wildcats, were both seniors in high school, having already committed to their respective programs. They were even more committed to trash talking each other.

"They were going back and forth," Nate Britt Sr. said. "They weren't talking. They were texting each other in the same room. It was unbelievable."

Competition in the Britt household turns something as mundane as leaving a restaurant into a race to get back to the car first. Sometimes, it's an effort to avoid being the last person upstairs at the end of the night; the loser has to go back downstairs and turn off the lights.

The family is gearing up for the possibility of the ultimate competition if the Tar Heels and Wildcats advance to the national championship game on Monday.

"It'd be a dream come true for our family," said Jenkins, a junior forward for Nova. "We know how much hard work we put into this game. For us to play against each other at the highest stage in our career, it'd be something special, something to always remember."

Before the competition, there was compassion.

Kelvin Jenkins, Kris' father, knew Britt Sr. from the summer of 2004, when their sons played in an AAU tournament as 10-year-olds.

Jenkins' parents were separated shortly thereafter and his mother, Felicia, moved Kris and his sisters Kaiya and Kelci to Baltimore to live with her sister later that year. It was there where Felicia had a complicated pregnancy and gave birth to a daughter, Kori, who passed away after 11 months.

Kelvin Jenkins contacted Britt Sr., wanting to keep his son busy with basketball to help him focus on something other than grief.

That's when Kris Jenkins' brotherhood with Nate Britt II began. Jenkins spent a lot of time playing with and against Britt II at age 11, and that summer, Jenkins ended up spending more time with the Britts in Upper Marlboro, located about 40 miles south of Baltimore.

Felicia Jenkins liked how Britt Sr., a police officer for 25 years, treated his son the same as the rest of the team and how he stressed academic discipline. She was a stickler for order and discipline, having served time in the Army.

So when she moved her family to Columbia, South Carolina, after getting hired as women's basketball coach at Division II Benedict College in 2005, she allowed her son to continue to play AAU ball in Maryland, and stay with the Britt family on a part-time basis.

It wasn't until she learned of her son's troubles in school a few years later when Felicia Jenkins realized Kris was in need of an even bigger change.

"He was running with some guys who wasn't making what I thought was smart decisions," she said. "A school monitor asked him for his cell phone and he said, 'You can't have my phone.' He had never been that type of kid before."

Whether it was just a mother's intuition or a true intervention, Felicia Jenkins didn't take her son's challenging authority lightly. She knew her coaching job would have her traveling and she didn't want to risk having her son fall into the wrong crowd.

"Understand it was the most difficult decision I made in my life," Felicia Jenkins said. "But I knew I had to make it in order to make sure he had the best opportunity."

She had grown comfortable with the Britt family from her son's summer stays and asked if they would take him in. Britt Sr. said when he talked it over with his wife, it wasn't a very long discussion. The Britts became Jenkins' legal guardians in 2007.

"I said as a mother, could you imagine going to someone else and saying you want them to take care of your son?" Britt Sr. told his wife. "So how do we say no?"

There were times when Felicia Jenkins said Kris was homesick. And there were times she missed her son so much it drove her to tears. She'd text or call often, and whenever she visited, she'd make sure to leave him handwritten notes of encouragement. But what she wasn't going to let him do was return to South Carolina.

"You're not coming back here to be what everybody is here -- hometown superstars that do absolutely nothing with their talents and their smarts," she said. "You're going to stay where you're at, muscle up and get some mental toughness and you're going to work through. You have to understand the bigger picture, and this is a better environment for you."

This was the kind of tough love that Kris Jenkins got from his mother even when she was teaching him the game. She'd put him through old-school drills like taking bank shots, even though it's a diminishing skill in today's game.

Villanova coach Jay Wright said he texts with Felicia Jenkins often, including last week, before the Wildcats faced Kansas. Her message to Wright then?

"Keep your foot on his throat."

Kris Jenkins said he now understands she was trying to help him prepare for life by putting him in a better situation.

"Biggest fear was probably just going into a new situation just not knowing what to expect going into a totally new area," Jenkins said. "At first it was just something different, but it turned out to be the best decision that's ever happened to me."

That goes for the Britts as well. Britt II, now a junior guard for UNC, was happy to have a brother his age who had the same ambitions.

"It took some getting used to, but Kris is a great person; his personality fit right in with my family," Britt II said. "We're brothers now. Looking back on it, it was great. I enjoy having him here with me and a part of my family."

Britt II and Jenkins have never played against each other in college.

It could have occurred in the 2014 Sweet 16, but Carolina lost to Iowa State and Nova was knocked off by eventual national champion Connecticut in the round of 32. Oklahoma and Syracuse could again spoil it on Saturday in Houston.

If it does happen, Nate Britt Sr., mother Melody and sister Natalia all vow to remain neutral. But it's competition that has driven both Britt II and Jenkins to excel.

"There was always me trying to one-up him or him trying to one-up me," said Britt II. "My sophomore year I win Gatorade Player of the Year, then he wins it junior and senior year. So there was endless competition between us."

Natalia Britt, a sophomore guard at Belmont-Abbey College, was in on it, too. She'd remind the boys when she outperformed them in different statistical categories.

After the Wildcats beat Kansas to advance to the Final Four on Saturday, Jenkins was back in Philadelphia on Sunday, in time to watch Britt II and the Tar Heels beat Notre Dame. Jenkins sat behind Carolina's bench cheering on his brother.

That's why if they potentially play each other for the national title, Britt Sr. said, no one loses.

"Look, it's a game, they've been changed at this point for the rest of their lives because they're brothers -- not biologically, but they're brothers," Britt Sr. said. "They grew up together, they believe in things the same way, they support each other, they always did. So they understand. Yeah, it's going to be a lot of smack going back and forth between them, but for us, it's a win-win."