MURFREESBORO – Avery Patton felt the nervous energy set in around 9 a.m. Saturday morning, two hours before his East Nashville boys basketball team was set to play Milan for the Class 2A state title.
The third-year head coach never took a seat on the bench even as the Eagles mostly rolled to a 72-55 win to earn their first-ever gold ball trophy at MTSU’s Murphy Center.
“I was just pacing and thinking about the game,” Patton said. “Once the game started, I just wanted to make sure the defense could hear me. Normally I sit down, but I had a lot of busy energy in my body.”
Patton has been putting his excess energy to good use for years.
By day, the former Glencliff High School basketball standout and Trevecca Nazarene University All-American is the Chief Deputy Clerk for Metro Nashville’s Juvenile Justice Center, providing administrative support for various court activities.
By night and on breaks from work, he’s a mentor at East Nashville and other Metro Nashville Public Schools through the Rites of Passage program, designed to help young men with academic, emotional and social skills.
“I love teaching kids. Not only basketball, but also life skills,” Patton said. “We talk about more things that go on with their lives, relationships and grades. I make sure they’re prepping for the ACT. It’s more than basketball.”
East Nashville assistant principal Michael Pratt said that mindset made Patton the ideal successor to previous head basketball coach Jim Fey, who took the same job at Summit High School in May 2019.
Patton, who has been on the school’s basketball staff since the 2010-11 season, typically spends his lunch break at the East Nashville cafeteria to interact with and supervise students.
“He’s a constant presence,” Pratt said. “Most of the parents I saw (at Murphy Center) said, ‘I’m here to support Coach Patton.’ He’s a pillar in the Nashville basketball and mentoring communities. He’s just a phenomenal man.”
Patton views both his day job and after-hours work as a calling.
“Any time you can have a conversation or build a relationship with a young kid, you’re mentoring them,” Patton said. “You have to guide them. Even when you’re mad at them, there’s discipline and tough love. But they’ve got to hear what they did wrong so they can do right. I feel like I was put down here to do that.”
East Nashville junior guard Jaylen Jones doesn’t mind when Patton gets onto him. He knows the coach has his players’ best interests in mind.
“We’re real comfortable and can play our game,” Jones said. “(Patton) is going to push us hard. He knows what we can do. When we do (something) wrong, he’s going to tell us how to do it right.”
East Nashville has enjoyed plenty of basketball success during Patton’s tenure, but they finally reached the pinnacle on Saturday.
Patton was an assistant when the Eagles finished as the state runner-up in 2011 and 2014. In his first season as the head coach in 2020, Patton led East Nashville to the state tournament that was never played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This season, it all came together for the Eagles.
“They’ve been playing hard in practice and the chemistry has been there 100% with each other,” Patton said. “I feel like – out of any school in the state of Tennessee – the East Nashville Magnet High School boys basketball team deserved a state championship this year.”
East Nashville’s basketball title continued what has been a banner sports year for the school. The Eagles finished as the Class 3A BlueCross Bowl runner-up to Alcoa in December and sent a pair of wrestlers to the individual state championships in February.
Mentorship-minded coaches like Patton are the ones making it happen behind the scenes.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement and energy,” Pratt said. “We’re trying to use athletics as a tool to empower the community and the kids. He’s the model coach for that.”