FAMILY TIES: From left: Nate Britt Jr. Derek Ricketts Sr. and Kris Jenkins enjoy special moments at the Ricketts Family Reunion in Laurel, Md. Ricketts is uncle of Britt Jr. and Jenkins. Both young men played in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball championship game. (Photo by Timothy Cox)
LAUREL, MD. — A Memorial Day cookout in the form of the Ricketts Family Reunion, developed into a congratulatory celebration for two players from the family, who also currently play with the nation’s top two collegiate basketball programs.
Guard Nate Britt Jr. and forward Kris Jenkins are the two brothers who gained national acclaim during March Madness 2016, as the two talented youngsters ultimately faced each other in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game, held April 2 in Houston.
As fate would have it, Jenkins would hit the winning 3-point shot at the buzzer, giving his Villanova Wildcats a heart-pounding 77-74 victory over Britt’s North Carolina Tar Heels. The brothers’ unique story was told countless times during the tournament, based on Nate Britt Jr.’s parents adopting Jenkins when the two roundballers were pre-teens, and Nate Britt Sr. coached the boys.
In this April 4, 2016, file photo, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins (2) shoots a game-winning three-point basket in the closing seconds of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against North Carolina, in Houston. Villanova won 77-74. What made the shot so memorable was the entirety of the back-and-forth that led up to it, the nervous energy surrounding both teams as they competed toward an uncertain outcome, and the remarkable double-clutch 3-pointer by North Carolinas Marcus Paige that preceded it. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
On May 31, just one day after the aforementioned holiday cookout, Jenkins and his entire team, including head coach Jay Wright, were invited to the White House, where President Obama noted that Jenkins, as a child, learned to shoot hoops from his biological mother, Felcia B. Jenkins, who also played college hoops (Claflin University, S.C.) and is now an assistant coach at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.
At the cookout, Jenkins noted that he “pretty much knew his big shot was going in. I could just tell when it left my hands,” said the 22-year-old junior, who plans to forgo the NBA 2016 draft and vie for a Villanova back-to- back title run, next season.
Britt Jr., also a junior, says he’ll also likewise return to Chapel Hill and complete his studies, before jumping into the fray known as the NBA draft. Both Britt and Jenkins played their high school ball at Gonzaga Prep (H.S.) in Washington, DC.
Derek K. Ricketts Sr., a Pittsburgh Peabody High School graduate (1975), is the uncle of both players. Mr. Ricketts vividly recalls their formidable stages.
“We’ve always been a tight family, and we always included those guys in our competitions from pickup basketball games to volleyball or (shooting) pool. We’re so proud of their accomplishments, and wish them both the best whatever future encounters they may seek,” said Ricketts himself a City League champion track and cross-country medalist from 1972-75. He also played for Peabody baskeball teams that featured the Rickett’s family friend and ex-Pitt star Melvin Bennett, who also enjoyed a lengthy ABA/NBA career.
For old-time Pittsburgh sports fans, if the Ricketts surname sounds familiar, it should. Dick Ricketts, a former Duquesne University hoops star, is a distant relative, as is his brother Dave Ricketts, the former Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen coach and St. Louis Cardinal catcher, said Derek Ricketts Sr.
Nate Britt Jr.’s mother, Melody Britt, is the daughter of the late Deborah Ricketts, who also played sports at Peabody High School. “Debbie moved to Maryland many years ago, and raised her four daughters near DC,” said Derek Ricketts Sr. “Debbie would be very proud to see her grandsons – but her memory lives on,” he said.
The Ricketts famiy is highly hearlded in East Pittsburgh’s Garfield district where Chevar Ricketts and his wife Geraldine Ricketts raised 11 children, and currently boast more than 125 combined grand- and great-granchildren.
“Daddy Ricketts was an avid sports fan, and would have been overly thrilled to see his grand kids playing at such a high level in that championship game,” said Derek Ricketts Sr. “We realize it’s all a major blessing,” he said.