Lou Henson, the legendary former coach of Illinois men’s basketball, has died. He was 88 years old.
Henson passed away on Saturday. His family made the choice to keep the news from being released until after this morning’s small funeral, limited to family. They were concerned about a potentially large gathering forming, had the news been released earlier.
Henson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2003. The disease led to his retirement midway through the 2004-05 season at New Mexico State. In 2007, he had a second battle with the disease, and in 2015, underwent chemotherapy once again to combat bone marrow cancer.
Lou Henson has the honor of being one of the all-time great coaches at two different programs: Illinois and his alma mater New Mexico State. He led both schools to a Final Four, and finished his career with a 779-422 record. In 2015, he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame coach died Saturday and was buried this morning. https://t.co/3vDBVJemSx
— The News-Gazette (@news_gazette) July 29, 2020
After four years at Hardin-Simmons—a small school in Texas that he only took over when the school agreed to integrate—he took over New Mexico State in 1966. He played at the school, then known as New Mexico A&M, from 1953-55, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school.
He led the team to the NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinal in just his second season, with a 23-6 record. The team reached the quarterfinal the next year, and then a Final Four in 1970, where the Aggies would fall to John Wooden’s national championship-winning UCLA Bruins.
In 1975, he took over at Illinois, where he really cemented his legacy. It took until 1980-81, his sixth season in Champaign, to reach the NCAA Tournament, but that set off a run of nine Tournament berths in 10 years, including a Final Four berth in 1989. He’d reach three more Tournaments before leaving the team, and returning to New Mexico State in 1997, where he remained until 2005.
Illinois honored Henson, who was 423-224 at the school, naming the court at the State Farm Center after him, and adding his famous orange blazer to the floor in 2015. In 2001, New Mexico State named the court at the Pan American Center after him as well.
— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) September 22, 2015
Our thoughts go out to Lou Henson’s family and friends today.