Former Illinois and New Mexico State basketball coach Lou Henson died on Saturday at his home in Champaign, Illinois, the Fighting Illini announced on Wednesday.
He was 88.
"We have lost an Illini icon,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “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.”
Lou Henson’s Hall of Fame career
Henson took over at New Mexico State in 1966 after a four-year stint at Hardin-Simmons, and led the Aggies to a Final Four appearance in just his fourth season in Las Cruces.
He made the jump to Illinois in 1975, and stayed there for 21 seasons. He led the Illini to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, one Big Ten regular season title and a Final Four run in 1989 — making him one of just 14 coaches in college history to reach the Final Four with two separate programs.
He returned to New Mexico State in 1997, and stayed there for eight seasons before retiring in 2005. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame a decade later.
Henson finished his career with a 775-420 overall record. He’s tied with John Calipari for the 13th-most wins all-time in college basketball history. The courts at both Illinois and New Mexico State are named after him, too — making him the only coach besides John Wooden to have two different courts named after him, per USA Today.
A sad day as we mourn the passing of Lou Henson, the greatest coach in Illini history. My thoughts are with Mary, their family & the hundreds of players who were led by such a tremendous man & coach.— Brad Underwood (@CoachUnderwood) July 29, 2020
Rest In Peace to the best to ever wear the orange jacket; we’ll miss you Coach. pic.twitter.com/UNiQhxAuWC
"It is a sad day for the Illinois Basketball family and Illini Nation as we mourn the passing of Lou Henson, the greatest coach in our program's proud history," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said in a statement. "His achievements are legendary, but what is immeasurable are the countless lives he impacted during his 21 years in Champaign and 41 years in coaching. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Mary and their family, and the hundreds of players who were fortunate enough to be led by such a tremendous man and coach.
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