Former Illinois, NMSU coach Henson dies at 88

Former Illinois and New Mexico State coach Lou Henson has died at age 88.

The Illinois athletic department announced Henson’s death on Wednesday, citing the Henson family saying he died Saturday at his home in Champaign, Ill.

“Our Orange and Blue hearts are heavy,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said 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.”

Henson is the all-time leader in victories at both Illinois (423) and New Mexico State (289) and led both schools to the Final Four — the Fighting Illini in 1989 and the Aggies in 1970.

Henson, who was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, had a 779-412 overall record, according to the NCAA. His coaching stops included a four-season stint at Hardin-Simmons (1962-66), two stops at New Mexico State — from 1966 to 1975 and 1997 to 2005 — and at Illinois from 1975 to 1996.

His official victory total doesn’t include 18 wins at New Mexico State for the 1997-98 season after he filled in when coach Neil McCarthy was reassigned in the wake of NCAA allegations.

Illinois and New Mexico State both named their courts after Henson. The only other coach with that distinction is legendary John Wooden (UCLA and Indiana State).

Henson guided Illinois to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances and led New Mexico State to seven NCAA berths.

“Aggie Nation’s hearts are heavy today,” New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia said in a statement. “We have lost an Aggie icon. Coach Henson may be gone, but the memories he provided us with and the legacy he created will last forever. He was responsible for almost 800 wins in the record book and the most memorable event in our university’s history of athletics: the trip to the 1970 Final Four.

“Coach Henson’s legacy was equally felt off the court in the lives he touched — those of his former players, people on this campus, and friends in Las Cruces and around the state of New Mexico. We are all better for whatever time we were privileged to spend with Lou.”