By HAROLD HUGGINS
Having to miss half of the game physically and all of it without being coach, Jim Fey started to come back to the normal world Monday.
The veteran East Nashville boys coach had guided his team to within a game of the school’s first state basketball championship before falling ill the day of the Class AA final in Murfreesboro. Suffering from a severe case of stomach virus, he began to realize he wouldn’t be coaching his team in one of the biggest games of his life.
Shortly before the game, Fey turned things over assistant Avery Patton. The Eagles came close but lost in the finals to Jackson South Side in double overtime.
“I woke up Saturday and felt pretty bad,” he said Monday when reached at home. “When I went to school, I felt worse and tried to rest a little before I left for Murfreesboro. I broke out in a cold sweat and was not feeling too good.
“When I stepped off the bus, I started feeling worse,” he said. “After about 5 p.m., and when I got in the dressing room, I knew I had to turn things over to Avery.”
After halftime, Fey returned to the bench but remained seated and left the coaching duties to Patton.
“I wasn’t myself, I was still a little groggy and wasn’t able to think clearly. I knew it wouldn’t be good to take over at that point, it was best to leave it to the coaches,” he said.
“They did a great job,” he said. “And quite honestly they probably did a better job than I could have done.”
When he returned after halftime, Fey sat at the end of the East bench. Facial expressions showed exactly how he felt. At one point even pounded the scorer’s table after a call that went against East.
“The players did a great job of coming back and played with so much heart and passion and fought back with such determination,” said Fey whose team trailed by 10 points starting the fourth quarter to tie and almost win after missing a last-second shot. “I was really proud of them.”
“Coach Patton did a great job of coaching us,” said Eagles leading scorer Terrence Holt who helped lead the comeback with 26 points. “They are both great coaches.”
“This is what I do,” Patton said after the game. “We do the same things coach Fey and I do during practice each day. We left it all out there (Saturday night).”
Fey, who also took East to the AA 2011 final, remained at home Monday as he continued to recuperate and said he felt much better.
Fey said the outlook for next season was very promising with key starters Isiah Upton and Thomas Booker returning and players arriving off a strong B-team. But meanwhile, he will re-charge some run-down batteries.
“I’m worn out,” Fey, who wound up his 18th season as the school’s only boys coach, said. “I’ve been going hard at this for almost six months. Since we’re on spring break, I started to visit my mother who lives near Sarasota, Fla., but changed my mind as the 12-hour trip was going to be too much.
“I’m going to go see my son’s baseball game this week. He’s four years old and already has his helmet and a bat,” he added.
During the game, Fey might reminisce about a great year that came up one win short.
It’s one season he won’t ever forget.