- Cotton Nash
- Hometown (Last School)
- Lake Charles, LA (High)
- 1961-62, 1962-63, 1963-64
- July 24, 1942
If you’re a University of Kentucky basketball fan, you probably recognize the name Nash. Charles “Cotton” Nash is known as one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. In fact, he played basketball and baseball at UK from 1961 to 1964. His jersey, number 44, hangs in the rafters of Rupp Arena.
Charles Francis “Cotton” Nash was born July 24, 1942 in Jersey City, New Jersey to Frank and Nell Nash. His father was just beginning his career with the du Pont Company as a safety engineer after graduation from Westchester State Teachers College, in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Nash is from Wilkes Barre, Pa. When Charlie was about 9 or 10 years old, an uncle started calling the towheaded youngster “Cotton-top.” The nickname stuck — even his wife calls him Cotton.
At the age of 11, Nash discovered basketball when his family moved to Indiana, which — along with neighboring Kentucky — has a passion for hoops. When he went to Jeffersonville High School, his coach during sophomore year was Cliff Barker, a member of the Kentucky teams that won back-to-back NCAA basketball tournaments in 1948 and 1949. Jeffersonville is right across the Ohio River from Louisville, about 80 miles west of Lexington, where UK is located.
Frank Nash was transferred to Orange, in east Texas. The family found out that the Lone Star State had eligibility rules for high-school athletes — there was a one-year residency requirement. Since Louisiana was not as stringent, Frank decided that the family would live just across the border in Lake Charles. He made the sacrifice of commuting 40 miles each way every day for his son’s sake.
At Lake Charles High, Nash became known as “The Bayou Bomber” for his basketball output. He was a star tight end in football, and even though the school had no baseball team, he still attracted scouts’ attention playing American Legion ball in the summers. In addition, he motivated himself to learn how to throw the discus and set a state high-school record. He could also run the 100-yard dash in around ten seconds.
A Parade All-American in basketball as a senior averaging 34 points per game, Nash had offers from more than 30 colleges around the country. He considered several Big 10 schools (Indiana and Michigan State). UCLA probably recruited him the hardest and longest. Indeed, UCLA sought to entice the handsome young blond by offering a date with Jane Fonda! “I kinda had a crush on her and I mentioned this on my visit.”
When it came down to it, though, Nash 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. The Wildcats were coached by a basketball legend, Adolph Rupp. When Nash left Indiana, Cliff Barker had told Rupp to keep an eye on him.
Big, rugged, smart and a terrific basketball player, Cotton Nash was the number one schoolboy cage prospect in the country his senior year. With Adolph Rupp at his side, Nash signed a grant-in-aid to play for UK on August 13, 1960. He met his wife, Julie Richey, in January 1960 while at UK. She was also a student there from Mount Sterling, Kentucky.
In those years, freshmen could not play on the varsity, but while he waited, Nash set seven UK frosh records. Nash started all 18 games played by the UK freshmen, and twice hit for 40 points—first in the opening game and later against the Tennessee freshmen despite sitting out nearly 10 minutes of the contest. After averaging 31 points in his first four games he was given plenty of praise by Rupp: “Even if Nash didn’t shoot at the basket, I would rather have him than Oscar Robertson or Wilt Chamberlain. He’s terrific as a feeder, as a dribbler and as a rebounder. Nash doesn’t hog the ball. He passes as well as any boy I have ever seen,” Rupp said. He led the freshman in nine statistical categories, he recorded new marks for most points (476), most field goals (160), most field goal attempts (384), most free throws (208), most free throws and attempts in one game (28 of 30), most free throws in succession (1 2), most rebounds (293 season and 36 single game) and best rebound average (16.2). He tied the frosh field goal mark for one game with 17 and also led the team without setting records in personal fouls (60) and scoring average (26.3). With the UK freshman track team, he ran the 100 in 10.1 and tossed the discus a record 146′ 1 3/4″. Swimming season conflicted with basketball, so Cotton had to wait until summer to get his feet wet as a lifeguard at a local country club pool.
As a sophomore, he immediately became a star. Nash scored 25 points against Miami in his varsity debut as a sophomore. On December 18, 1961, in front of 11,200 fans in Memorial Coliseum, Cotton Nash was high scorer with 20 points but it was the big sophomore’s 30 rebounds that turned the tide in the Wildcats’ favor in a game that was hard fought and much closer than indicated by the final 23-point margin over Temple. Temple was undefeated at the time. Coach Rupp’s idea of a perfect game for Nash was for him to get 36 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists and hold his man to four. The nearest Nash came to this as a sophomore was against Vanderbilt when he picked up 38 points (one of nine times he was 30 or over), 16 rebounds, four assists and his man got six.
For lack of a true big man, Nash often served as a center, even though he stood just 6’5”. Yet he could and did play all positions. The game was not as specialized then; in particular, Rupp’s teams (by design) featured a balanced array of good all-around players. He could score from anywhere on the floor, with range up to 30 feet, a skillful lefty hook shot in the lane, and quick moves to the hoop. He was one of the nation’s smallest centers as a sophomore but was outjumped by only two (John Rudometkin of So. Calif. and Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas) and was the SEC’s No. 3 rebounder on a 13.6 average.
And as a sophomore, Cotton Nash proved the truth of Coach Adolph Rupp’s claim that he was “the best sophomore in the country.” Nash made three major All-America teams, was unanimously voted All-Southeastern Conference (first soph ever to win unanimous All-Conference) and was the conference’s Player of the Year. He was the first soph in 10 years to win the Southeastern Conference scoring title. In addition, he broke nine UK records—outdoing the performances of four previous Kentucky All-Americas who set seven of them as seniors—and won the SEC scoring championship by averaging 23.8 points for 24 games. Here are the records Nash set that season:
- Most Points by Sophomore—608 in 26 games (Old Record: 544 by Johnny Cox in 28 games, 1956-57)
- Highest Scoring Average by Sophomore—23.8 (Old Record: 19.4 by Johnny Cox in 1956-57)
- Most Points by Sophomore—571 in 24 games (Old Record: 501 by Johnny Cox in 26 games, 1956-57)
- Highest Scoring Average by Sophomore—23.8 (Old Record: 19.2 by Johnny cox in 1956-57)
- Most Free Throws by Sophomore—161 in 24 games (Old Record: Unknown)
- Most Free Throws (Any Class)—161 in 24 games (Old Record: 134 in 26 games by Alex Groza as senior, 1948-49)
- Most Free Throws Attempted by Sophomore—21 1 in 24 games (Old Record: Unknown)
- Most Free Throws Attempted (Any Class)—21 1 in 24 games (Old Record: 191 in 25 games by Cliff Hagan as senior, 1953-54)
- Most Points by Sophomore—379 in 14 games (338 by Cliff Hagan as a senior in 1951)
- Most Points (Any Class)—379 in 14 games (Old Record: 338 in 14 games by Cliff Hagan as senior, 1953-54)
- Highest Scoring Average by Sophomore—27. I (Old Record: Unknown)
- Highest Scoring Average (Any Class)—27.1 (Old Record: 24.1 by Cliff Hagan as senior, 1953-54)
- Most Field Goals by Sophomore—141 (288 attempted) (Old Record: Unknown)
- Most Field Goals (Any Class) —141 (288 attempted) (Old Record: 139 by Cliff Hagan as senior, 1953-54)
- Most Free Throws by Sophomore—97 (1 22 attempted) (Old Record: Unknown)
- Most Free Throws (Any Class)—97 (122 attempted) (Old Record: 86 by Frank Ramsey as senior, 1953-54)
- Most Free Throws Attempted by Sophomore—122 (Old Record: Unknown)
- Most Free Throws Attempted (Any Class) —122 (Old Record: 108 by Frank Ramsey as senior, 1953-54)
Cotton was known to be a very modest man. Following his sophomore campaign, he told the Courier-Journal, “I’d like to go somewhere I’m not known so well,” Cotton said. “The publicity doesn’t bother me exactly, but it means you have to be on your guard all the time. The people think of you as setting an example, and if you don’t set one —if you even walk on the grass—you hear about it. It’s pretty hard at times.” He didn’t like to go out in public very much because of this. Cotton said he was “conscious of the buildup at the first of the year. But I tried not to think about it. I was a little unsure of myself at first—about whether I could really live up to all the expectations.” His mother said he wrote to her after he had made All-American and said, “I sure hope I can live up to these honors.”
Hopes were high for the 1962-63 Wildcats — Nash made the cover of Sports Illustrated on December 10, 1962. In the accompanying article, Adolph Rupp said, “If I had my choice of one man in the country to build my team around, it would be Cotton Nash.” He again paced Kentucky with a 20.6 scoring average but disappointingly fell off from the Conference-leading 23.4 pace of his sensational, record-busting
sophomore campaign. He did enter the coveted 1,000-point club earlier than any previous Wildcat as he moved past the magic number in the 19th game of his junior year amassing the mark of 1,122 points after netting 608 as a soph and adding 514 as a junior.
By some accounts, Nash and Rupp clashed; by others, it was “an uneasy alliance.” When “The Baron of the Bluegrass” passed away in December 1977, though, Nash stated, “I just enjoyed playing for the man. I thought he was a very serious and upright coach. There were some players who quit and did not finish their four years. I was one that liked and took to his style of coaching and appreciated it. . .I, for one, wouldn’t have played for anyone else.” Over the years, Nash has often commented on how efficient and economical Rupp’s practice sessions were.
In his 1976 book “Kentucky Basketball’s Big Blue Machine,” author Russell Rice noted that, before Nash, UK home games in Memorial Coliseum did not routinely sell out. But when season tickets went on sale before Nash’s senior year, Rice wrote that the lines to buy them were longer than a city block.
“From that point on, there would be no season UK basketball tickets for sale to the general public,” Rice wrote. ‘”The House that Rupp Built’ had become ‘The House that Cotton Filled.”‘
In Nash’s final year at Kentucky, he was SEC scoring champion again; the runner-up was future Cubs shortstop Don Kessinger of Mississippi (who stuck to baseball). For the third straight year, Nash was named an All-American. He was a consensus second-team pick as a sophomore and junior, but made the first team as a senior, also finishing a very close second in the voting for college basketball’s Player of the Year. In the NCAA tournament, though, after a bye it was “one and done” for the Wildcats. Nash had an off night in “the most astounding upset of the season.”
Looking back on Nash’s college career, Cawood Ledford, the radio announcer who was “The Voice of the Wildcats” from 1953 to 1992, wrote, “I’ve never understood why Cotton Nash took so many knocks from the fans. Even though he was a three-time All-American, he was never able to satisfy everyone. As far as I’m concerned, they ought to build a monument to the guy. . .He absolutely carried the program on his back.” Nash averaged 22.7 points and 12.7 rebounds in 78 games on the varsity. At the time, he was Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer. He is still in the Top Ten in career scoring and rebounding for Kentucky.
Nash took part in trials for the U.S. Olympic basketball team in April 1964. Although he remembers being sick at that time, he was named one of seven alternates, ahead of stars like Billy Cunningham and Rick Barry. Making the 12-man squad at his position were other strong future NBA players: Bill Bradley, “Jumping Joe” Caldwell, and Jeff Mullins. The captain, Jerry Shipp from the Phillips 66ers, was yet another sharpshooting small forward. The international veteran was Team USA’s top scorer in Tokyo that October.
When asked if he would he have waited to turn pro if he’d made the first team, Nash responded, “Probably. I would love to have gone. I was very disappointed.”
While at the University of Kentucky, Nash also played on the school’s baseball team.
On May 4, the Los Angeles Lakers selected Nash in the second round of the 1964 NBA draft. Twelve days later, he signed to play baseball with the Los Angeles Angels organization
In 1963, he played collegiate summer baseball with the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League and was named a league all-star. He went on to appear in 13 games over three MLB seasons with the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. One of those games was with the White Sox on September 10, 1967, in the ninth inning of Joe Horlen’s no-hitter; he replaced Ken Boyer at first base and recorded all three putouts in the inning.
Nash is one of only 13 multi-sport athletes to have played in both the NBA and Major League Baseball.
Nash quit basketball in January 1968.
While helping with this biography in 2010, Nash said that if he had to do it all over again, “I would probably have stuck with baseball. Hindsight, of course, is very clear.”
In 1972, Nash returned to his home and family in Lexington, where he was a real estate salesman.
Nash owned his own real estate and investment company in Lexington, plus “a couple of other business ventures.” Lexington is “The Horse Capital of the World,” though, and Cotton and and his wife Julie had been breeding and owning standardbreds for around 30 years. Their horse Magic Shopper won the 1995 running of the Jugette, harness racing’s premier event for fillies. In the first decade of the 21st century, Miss Scarlett was their big winner. They later bred Rock N Roll Heaven, the horse that won the Little Brown Jug in 2010 and was named to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2017.
In February 1991, an overdue honor arrived. The Lexington Herald Leader wrote, “Charles ‘Cotton’ Nash is still glowing about what happened to him last Sunday, when a University of Kentucky jersey bearing No. 44 was retired in his honor before the Georgia game. ‘For years I was basically ignored,’ Nash said. ‘It was really quite a shock, after all these years, to get some attention again.’ The credit goes to Athletics Director C.M. Newton, who has been working quietly to make things right.”
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inducted Nash in 1993, even though his two years in Lake Charles were his only association with the state at all. Shortly after that honor, he also entered the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. “I was surprised when I was informed,” he said. Yet he was too modest — over five decades after he graduated, people in the Bluegrass State still talk about Cotton Nash.
His grandson Nick Nash said Cotton still enjoys watching the Cats, “Cotton likes to watch games on his couch and smoke cigars. It’s fun to listen to him compare his era of college basketball to the current state of the game,” Nick said. “Cotton was a great shooter and rebounder with an unstoppable hook shot. So, I think he sees himself in PJ [Washington].”
Cotton Nash, from the Rafters of Rupp, interview with Kyle Macy: