When I think of Cotton Nash, I think scorer. The three time All-America is simply one of the most prolific scorers in the storied history of Kentucky basketball. From 1961 to 1964 the 6'5", 220 lb Nash, in only 78 games played, scored 1,770 points. His career average stands at 22 points per game, to go along with his 12 rebounds per game average.
Nash is one of only six Kentucky players to garner All-America honors three straight years ( Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, Frank Ramsey, and Kyle Macy ). He's also one of only three Kentucky players to lead their respective teams in scoring for three straight years ( Jack Givens and Tony Delk ). He holds the distinction of being the UK player to reach 1,000 points in the fewest games; reaching the plateau in only 45 games played, four fewer than Dan Issel.
Cotton Nash is one of the reasons the University of Kentucky is at the pinnacle of college basketball. He was a player who dominated in his era, and established Kentucky's presence in the ever-changing landscape of college basketball in the early 1960's. His time in the blue and white spanned a differing and changing era of college athletics, and he separated himself and his team from those who attempted to knock the 'Cats from their lofty throne. The 'Cats posted a 60-18 record in his three years, and while he was certainly surrounded by talent, Nash was the man the opponents had to stop in order to beat UK. His ability to score, even when defended by nearly an entire team, is what makes him great, and his legacy nearly unmatched.
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey his family moved from the northeast to Texas and then to Indiana, where he discovered basketball. From Indiana he moved to Louisiana for his junior and senior years in high school. Upon his arrival in Lexington, his impact was felt immediately when he scored 25 points in his very first contest at the varsity level. From that point forward he never looked back.
Nash's #44 hangs from the rafters in Rupp Arena. He will always be considered one of UK's all-time great players. He is as deserving of iconic status as any player in Kentucky history.
Nash was one of the relatively few college athletes drafted by the NBA, who also played Major League baseball. The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Nash with the twelfth pick of the '64 draft. He also played professional basketball with the San Francisco Warriors and the Kentucky Colonels. He made it to the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. A two sport star indeed.
I recently had the great honor of speaking with Nash about a variety of issues, here is what the Kentucky great had to say:
ASOB -- You are from Lake Charles, Louisiana, how did Coach Rupp entice you to come to UK?
Nash -- Coach Rupp was given a heads-up by Cliff Barker ( member of the Fabulous Five ). He happened to be my high school coach my sophomore year in Indiana. When I left Indiana he told Rupp to keep an eye on me.
I wanted to stay in the same geographical area. And if you were going to play basketball in the SEC, you had to play at Kentucky.
ASOB -- What other schools did you consider?
Nash -- Several Big 10 schools, Indiana and Michigan State, ACC schools. UCLA probably recruited me the hardest and longest, but as I said, I wanted to stay in the same geographical area.
ASOB -- You were a big scorer from your first varsity game on. When did you realize that you could dominate at the collegiate level?
Nash -- It just kind of evolved. I just played as hard as I could for as long as I could.
ASOB -- How was your relationship with Coach Rupp?
Nash -- I really enjoyed playing for him. Practices were short and to the point. We only practiced an hour and forty-five minutes, but every practice was choreographed. We didn't have to do conditioning before or after practice because we were always moving. I liked that kind of efficiency. I appreciated him as a coach, and I think he appreciated me as a player.
ASOB -- Do you think that the national media has painted an unfair picture of Coach Rupp?
Nash -- What do you mean?
ASOB -- As far as his racism, and refusing to recruit black athletes?
Nash -- That's just media stuff. If had nothing to do with his outlook.
ASOB -- You played both basketball and baseball in college, and professionally. Which sport was your first love?
Nash -- Baseball, for sure. I never played basketball until I moved to Indiana, in the sixth or seventh grade. The only sport we played in New Jersey was baseball. We had the Giants, Yankees, and Dodgers, and everyone dreamed of playing in the Big Leagues.
I moved to Indiana and discovered basketball. I had never really heard of basketball until then.
ASOB -- Did the baseball program at UK have anything to do with your decision to attend Kentucky?
Nash -- The fact that they let me play both sports.
ASOB -- You were at Kentucky when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, did that on have an impact on the basketball team?
Nash -- Oh yeah. We reported to the ( Memorial ) Coliseum at 2:30 in the afternoon, just about the time they announced that he died. The whole world stopped, and so did we.
ASOB -- What player of recent vintage, or since you left, most reminds you, of you?
Nash -- At Kentucky I jumped center, and played the post. Back then the starting five could play all over the floor. We ran the ball ... my senior year we were in triple figures, I think I figured, every third game. I don't think there has been a player that played like I did ( playing all over the floor ). There aren't many players who do that anymore, they're more specialized.
ASOB -- What are your thoughts on Billy Gillispie, and the job he is doing?
Nash -- He needs more time to get his program injected. He's only had one year. He needs more time to instill his philosophy, and his way of doing things.
ASOB -- Do you have any thoughts on the recruitment of such young players?
Nash -- It doesn't make any difference. They have several years to make a commitment. It's just a bunch of publicity, it's meaningless at this time. There are so many things that can change; they can become interested in other sports, or could become overweight. It's all just publicity at this point.
ASOB -- Last years team experienced quite a turnaround, as an observer, what do you attribute the teams mid-to-late-season turnaround to?
Nash -- I saw the maturity and evolution of Joe Crawford. At the end he established his presence, and developed some NBA-type moves. I hope he gets a chance to make it with the Lakers.
ASOB -- Who was the best player you ever played against?
Nash -- Wilt Chamberlain, easily.
ASOB -- Was Jerry West the best player you ever played with?
Nash -- Yeah, of course. He's definitely one of the best basketball players of all time.
I want to offer my sincere thanks to Mr. Nash for taking the time out of his busy schedule to participate in this interview.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!