Hall of Fame former Fighting Illini head basketball coach Lou Henson died last Saturday. He was 88 years old.
Henson was the all-time wins leader at the University of Illinois, guiding the team to a 423-224 record from 1975-1996. That included a 214-164 record in Big Ten Conference play, and one Big Ten conference title in 1984.
He also led the Illini to 12 NCAA tournament appearances, the highlight being a Final Four berth with the 1988-89 “Flying Illini.”
"Our Orange and Blue hearts are heavy," said Josh Whitman, Illinois Director of Athletics, in a statement. "We have lost an Illini icon. We have lost a role model, a friend, and a leader. We have lost our coach.
“Coach Henson may be gone, but the memories he provided us, and the legacy he created, will last forever. He was responsible for almost 800 wins in the record book and countless Fighting Illini moments frozen in time, but Coach Henson's true measure will be felt in the lives he touched – the lives of his former players, people on this campus, and friends in our broader community.
“We are all better for whatever time we were privileged to spend with Coach Lou, whether it was five minutes or 50 years. He made everyone feel like a friend. I so enjoyed my time with Coach these last five years, and I will miss him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mary, Lisa, Lori, Leigh Anne, and the entire Henson family. Their family will always be part of ours."
In addition to his iconic career at the University of Illinois, Henson coached at New Mexico State where he compiled another 289 victories, from 1966-1975 and 1997-2005. Henson is the wins leader at New Mexico State, as well.
His 779 career wins rank 28th all-time in NCAA history. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Hall of Fame in 2015. The same year, the newly renovated court at Illinois was renamed “Lou Henson Court.” The basketball court at New Mexico State is named “Lou Henson Court,” as well.
“He really was ahead of the game, in terms of bringing fan interaction and fan connection to a program,” said Stephen Bardo, one of Henson’s former players in a video on Twitter. “For me, Lou Henson’s voice got louder the longer after I left school. The more of an adult I became, the older my kids became, I would hear coach Henson’s voice more. I would impart the lessons I learned from him onto my children.
“He had an enormous impact on my life.”