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Lou Henson, Illinois Basketball’s all-time win leader, dies at 88

Henson coached at the University from 1975-96.


Former Illinois basketball head coach Lou Henson has passed away at 88 years old.

The News-Gazette first reported that Henson passed away Saturday and was buried Wednesday morning.

“Our Orange and Blue hearts are heavy,” said Director of Athletics Josh Whitman. “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.”

Henson is the program’s all-time leader in wins with 423. He coached at Illinois from 1975-1996, coaching the 1989 Flyin’ Illini, a team that won a then-program record 31 games and advanced to the Final Four. Henson coached players like Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Steve Bardo and Eddie Johnson over his 20-plus years in Champaign.

A native of Okay, Oklahoma, Henson also had coaching stops at Hardin-Simmons and New Mexico State. He coached at his alma mater, New Mexico State, from 1966-75 and 1997-2005, serving as the school’s athletic director during the first stint. He is also currently New Mexico State’s all-time leader in wins with 289, making him one of only four NCAA coaches with 200-plus victories at multiple schools.

The courts at both Illinois and New Mexico State bear Henson’s name.

“They don't just name courts after (anybody),” current Illinois basketball coach Brad Underwood said in December 2017. “John Wooden and Lou Henson. The only people with two courts named after them.”

Henson battled health issues over the past decade, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which forced him to resign during the 2004-05 season. He also battled bone-marrow and lung infection issues in recent years.

Henson was honored at Illinois and New Mexico State’s matchup at the United Center in Chicago on Dec. 16, 2017.

Henson was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

The Lou Henson Award is named after the former Illinois coach. Established in 2010, it is awarded to the most outstanding mid-major college basketball player.

But it wasn’t just mid-major basketball that Henson affected.

“One of the reasons I wanted to be the basketball coach at Illinois is because of everything (Lou Henson) built,” Underwood said.

In a statement following Henson’s passing, Underwood said: “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.”

Henson is survived by his wife Mary.

Continue following The Champaign Room for more coverage as we remember the greatest basketball coach in Illinois history, Lou Henson.

How You Can Help

Per the DIA, the Henson family asks that in lieu of flowers, friends and fans consider a memorial contribution in Coach Henson’s name to one or more of the following:

Boys & Girls Club of Las Cruces, New Mexico

330 W. Las Cruces Avenue

Las Cruces, NM 88005

Boys & Girls Club of Las Cruces, NM

Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club of Champaign, Illinois

201 E. Park Street

Champaign, IL 61820

Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club of Champaign, IL

Cunningham Children’s Home

1301 N. Cunningham Avenue

Urbana, Illinois 61802

Cunningham Children’s Home

NMSU Foundation, Inc.

Lou and Mary Henson Endowed Scholarship

P.O. Box 3590

Las Cruces, NM 88003

Lou and Mary Henson Endowed Scholarship

U of I Foundation

Lou and Mary Henson Men’s Basketball Academic Assistance Fund

1305 W. Green Street

Urbana, IL 61801

Lou and Mary Henson Men’s Basketball Academic Assistance Fund