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Former Illini Hoops Coach Lou Henson Dies At Age 88

Lou Henson and his wife Mary in 2015 at the dedication ceremony for "Lou Henson Court."

CHAMPAIGN – Former University of Illinois men’s basketball coach Lou Henson died on Saturday. He was 88 years old.

The U of I announced his death on Wednesday, shortly after a private funeral service. 

Henson coached at Illinois from 1975-1996, amassing a record of 423-224, the most wins in school history.

His 1989 team, known as the Flying Illini, advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four, where they lost to conference rival Michigan, a team they had beaten twice during the regular season.

Before arriving at Illinois, Henson also coached at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas, and New Mexico State University. He coached again at NMSU for an additional seven-plus seasons after retiring at Illinois in 1996. His 779 career coaching wins rank 24th on the NCAA’s all-time list in men’s basketball.

Henson told WILL in 2015 that his proudest moment in coaching came at Hardin-Simmons, where he told the search committee he would only take the coaching job if the school integrated its basketball team, which had previously been all white.

“Would you believe the Trustees met the next day – and after about a two-hour decision, they decided to integrate the team,” he said. “So that’s the thing that we’re most proud of is what we did to integrate them – and of course, it was a tough time back then, because we couldn’t feed the team in restaurants.”

Henson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, and the basketball court at the U of I’s State Farm Center was named “Lou Henson Court” in his honor that same year.

Henson had battled health issues since being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2003. He had homes in both Champaign and Las Cruces, New Mexico, cities where he coached.

Many people shared their memories of Henson on social media when they found out the news.

WILL’s David Inge interviewed Henson for an episode of “Illinois Pioneers” in 2013.

Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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