Fighting Illini basketball coach Lou Henson passes away at 88

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WMBD) — The Henson family announced Wednesday that the legendary Fighting Illini basketball coach Lou Henson passed away in his Champaign home Saturday, July 25.

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Director of Athletics Josh Whitman expressed his remorse for the lost in a press release.

“Our Orange and Blue hearts are heavy,” Whitman said.

“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.”

Josh Whitman, Director of Athletics at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Family members held a private graveside service earlier Wednesday in Champaign. The 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

Coach Henson was hired at the University of Illinois in 1975. This is where Henson’s legendary run began, spanning over 21 years. Henson lead a 423-224 record. The Illinois Basketball Team became one of the nation’s most dominant programs , earning a top-5 seed in the NCAA Tournament seven straight years from 1984 through 1990.

His most successful season came with the iconic, Flyin’ Illini, the team that held a then-school record of 31 games. The Flyin’ Illini also advanced to NCAA Final Four in 1989. Illinois won 233 games during the 80’s, standing as the winningest Big Ten team of that decade.

Coach Henson still ranks fifth all-time among Big Ten coaches in both total wins and conference wins.

Henson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018, the New Mexico State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1978, the Hardin-Simmons Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997, and the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.

If you head to State Farm Center in Champaign, you’ll see that the basketball court has been officially named after Lou Henson. His name also adorns the court at New Mexico State.

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