Wrestling Icon Kevin Nash Almost Had An Entirely Different Career In Sports

You may know him best for his time as Shawn Michaels' bodyguard (and later arch-rival) Diesel in WWE or for his status as one of the founding members of the New World Order in WCW. You may even look back (probably not too fondly) on his confusing role in the CM Punk vs. Triple H feud or his divisive comments about "vanilla midgets" like Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and Chris Benoit — smaller wrestlers getting pushes that he felt belonged to the bigger guys. But it's hard to argue against Nash being a two-time WWE Hall of Famer, where he is recognized for his work as a solo performer and the key role he played as part of the nWo.

Standing almost 7 feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds at his peak, Nash was an impressive physical specimen whose charisma and microphone skills helped make him equally effective as a babyface and as a heel. On top of all the recognitions he's earned in the world of sports entertainment, Nash has also become fairly well-known as an actor, with notable appearances including his turn as a sadistic prison guard in the 2005 remake of "The Longest Yard" and his role as male stripper Tarzan in the "Magic Mike" franchise. But years before all that grappling and acting, Nash was showing much more promise in another sport, and might have actually had a chance at a long, successful career in that sport if fate didn't have other plans for the would-be "Big Daddy Cool" and "Big Sexy."

Nash was a top high school basketball recruit

It should probably not surprise anyone, but Kevin Nash was a talented high school basketball recruit in the mid-'70s, as Grantland noted in its feature piece on the wrestling legend. The Detroit native was a star player for Aquinas High School, and as he told the publication, he was lucky enough to attend the same basketball camp as the one and only Earvin "Magic" Johnson after his junior year. Nash and Johnson would cross paths again a year later as they were teammates on a Midwestern all-star squad that defeated the Russian Junior National Team. 

Sure, it was an exhibition game, but Nash recalled having a great time playing alongside the future Los Angeles Lakers icon. "Early in the game, Magic came down the lane, I had my hands by my chin and all of a sudden, I had the ball in my hands," he told Grantland. "If Magic Johnson was my point guard, I probably could have had a couple of scrub years in the NBA."

Naturally, in order to play a "couple of scrub years" in the world's leading professional basketball league, you need to have a decent college career and/or play for a high-profile program. When Nash committed to the University of Tennessee, that took care of the latter. But was he any good during his time with the Volunteers?

He left Tennessee as a junior after an altercation with coach Don DeVoe

A look at Kevin Nash's Sports-Reference college basketball page doesn't reveal anything special — in three seasons with the University of Tennessee Volunteers, the 6-foot-10 center averaged 5.1 points and 4.2 rebounds and shot almost 46% from the field. Perhaps more notably, he converted just 52% of his free throws, putting him at a similar level with guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal ... in that one specific statistical category, of course. 

Stats-wise, Nash had an unremarkable stint with the Vols, but he admitted to Grantland that the way in which he left the team was anything but. He was frequently at odds with head coach Don DeVoe (pictured above coaching Florida in the early '90s), and the situation came to a head when DeVoe got physical with Nash after a tough loss to Kentucky. The coach apparently blamed the big man for costing the Vols the game, as Nash had been ejected for punching a Wildcats player. But in what sounds like another precursor to his future career, Nash wasn't going to take this sitting down.  "He grabbed my jersey and tried to spin me around," he recalled. "He kept running his mouth so I b***h-smacked him."

Despite making plans to transfer to Bowling Green (via DDT Digest), a smaller school where he could have gotten a bigger chance to shine, Nash's college career was over after that shoving match with DeVoe.

A knee injury indirectly led to his entry into the wrestling business

In August 2022, Kevin Nash claimed on his podcast (via YouTube) that he was still in the Army when he started playing professional basketball in Germany — he was, in his words, "getting paid under the table," but was nonetheless making good use of his athletic skills. However, it wasn't long before a serious knee injury ended his basketball career, and with pro sports out of the question, he returned home to Detroit and worked in the assembly line (via Grantland).

Sometime later, Nash was working as a bouncer at a strip club in Atlanta — home of WWE's biggest North American rival at the time, World Championship Wrestling. Seeing another career opportunity for a large, athletic man like himself, Nash began training at the Georgia Academy of Wrestling. After impressing his trainer, Jody Hamilton, Nash was signed by WCW, debuting on TV in September 1990 as one-half of the Master Blasters tag team. He was then repackaged as a solo star under the gimmick of Oz, a wizard-like individual with a neon-green cape and a pet monkey accompanying him and manager Kevin Sullivan to the ring. Yeah, we know. Wrestling can be weird.

Given how he was named after the location where the Wizard of Oz hails from (as opposed to actually being billed as a wizard), Nash's Oz character is a mainstay of worst WCW gimmicks lists. Next, he was repackaged as the smooth-talking Vinnie Vegas, and WWE's Shawn Michaels loved it so much that he helped Nash make the jump to Vince McMahon's promotion. Thankfully, "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel was the perfect gimmick, one that allowed Nash to break out as a wrestler years after his basketball career came to an unceremonious end.