Lou Henson

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Lou Henson
Biographical details
Born(1932-01-10)January 10, 1932
Okay, Oklahoma
DiedJuly 25, 2020(2020-07-25) (aged 88)
Champaign, Illinois
Playing career
1951–1953Connors JC
1953–1955New Mexico A&M
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1956–1958Las Cruces HS (JV)
1958–1962Las Cruces HS
1966–1975New Mexico State
1997–2005New Mexico State
Administrative career (AD unless noted)
1967–1975New Mexico State
Head coaching record
Tournaments19–20 (NCAA)
5–4 (NIT)
Accomplishments and honors
NCAA Regional – Final Four (1970, 1989)
Big Ten Conference regular season (1984)
Big West Conference regular season (1999)
Big West Tournament (1999)
Big Ten Coach of the Year (1993)
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2015

Louis Ray Henson (January 10, 1932 – July 25, 2020) was an American college basketball coach. He retired as the all-time leader in victories at the University of Illinois with 423 victories and New Mexico State with 289 victories.[1] Overall Henson won 779 games, putting him in sixteenth place on the all-time list. Henson was also one of only four NCAA coaches to have amassed at least 200 total wins at two institutions.[2] On February 17, 2015, Henson was selected as a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.[1][2] In August 2015, prior to the reopening of the newly renovated State Farm Center at the University of Illinois, the hardwood floor was dedicated and renamed Lou Henson Court in his honor. The court at the Pan American Center at New Mexico State University is also named in his honor.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Okay, Oklahoma, Henson graduated from Okay High School in 1951 and matriculated at Connors Junior College before transferring to New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (New Mexico A&M, now New Mexico State University). He lettered in basketball for the New Mexico A&M Aggies from 1953 to 1955 and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1955 and master's degree in 1956.[3][4]


Henson began his coaching career at Las Cruces High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1956. After two years as junior varsity coach, Henson was head coach of the varsity team from 1958 to 1962 and won state championships in 1959, 1960, and 1961.[3]

He started coaching in the college ranks in 1962 at Hardin-Simmons University. As a condition of taking the Hardin-Simmons job, Henson insisted that the team (and thus the school) be racially integrated, a condition to which the university agreed.[5][6] In 1966, he took over at his alma mater, New Mexico State University. In his first season at NMSU, the Aggies rebounded from a 4–22 record in the prior season to finish 15–11 and went to the NCAA Tournament. In 1970, Henson would help lead the Aggies to the Final Four for the only time in the school's history. Henson and future NBA players Jimmy Collins, Sam Lacey, and Charlie Criss lost in the tournament semifinal to eventual champion UCLA, the third time in three years the Aggies lost to UCLA in the tournament. Henson coached at New Mexico State for nine seasons, with six trips to the NCAA Tournament and four twenty-win seasons.

In 1975, Henson moved to the University of Illinois to replace Gene Bartow, after Bartow left Illinois to replace John Wooden at UCLA. In 21 years at Illinois, Henson garnered 423 wins and 224 losses (.654 winning percentage), and with a record of 214 wins and 164 losses (.567) in Big Ten Conference games. The 214 wins in Big Ten games were the third highest total ever at the time of his retirement. His best Fighting Illini team was the 1988-89 unit, which won a then-school record 31 games and went to the Final Four. At Illinois, Henson coached many future NBA players, including Eddie Johnson, Derek Harper, Ken Norman, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Kenny Battle, Marcus Liberty, Steve Bardo, and Kiwane Garris, and was known for his trademark Lou-Do. Henson retired from Illinois at the end of the 1996-1997 season.

In 1997, Henson returned to New Mexico State as interim head coach after Neil McCarthy was abruptly fired before the start of the season. Henson wanted to donate his time, but was told that state law didn't allow him to coach for free. He finally accepted a nominal salary of $1 per month. After a successful season, he was given his old job back on a permanent basis. His 1998–99 team won the Big West regular season and tournament titles—notably, the first time in Henson's career that he had won a conference tournament. He retired for good midway through the 2004–05 season due to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. His second stint allowed him to regain his standing as New Mexico State's all-time winningest coach, passing McCarthy.

Health problems[edit]

In July 2007, Henson announced that he was again undergoing chemotherapy for the same strain of lymphoma that he had battled four years previously. He was undergoing treatment in Champaign, Illinois, where he lived in the summer.[7] In July 2015, Henson once again entered chemotherapy for "bone marrow problems."

Henson "returned to coaching" at age 82 as coach of the New Mexico House of Representatives team in a charity contest versus the New Mexico State Senate team on February 7, 2014.[8]

Henson died on July 25, 2020 at the age of 88.[9]

Head coaching record[edit]

Statistics overview
Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Hardin–Simmons Cowboys (NCAA University Division independent) (1962–1966)
1962–63 Hardin–Simmons 10–16
1963–64 Hardin–Simmons 20–6
1964–65 Hardin–Simmons 17–8
1965–66 Hardin–Simmons 20–6
Hardin-Simmons: 67–36
New Mexico State Aggies (NCAA University Division independent) (1966–1970)
1966–67 New Mexico State 15–11
1967–68 New Mexico State 23–6 NCAA University Division Regional Semifinal
1968–69 New Mexico State 24–5 NCAA University Division Regional Quarterfinal
1969–70 New Mexico State 27–3 NCAA University Division Final Four
New Mexico State Aggies (Missouri Valley Conference) (1970–1975)
1970–71 New Mexico State 19–8 0–0 NCAA University Division Regional Quarterfinal
1971–72 New Mexico State 19–6 0–0
1972–73 New Mexico State 12–14 6–7 T–4th
1973–74 New Mexico State 14–11 7–6 T–3rd
1974–75 New Mexico State 20–7 11–3 2nd NCAA Division I Round of 32
New Mexico State: 173–71 24–16
Illinois Fighting Illini (Big Ten Conference) (1975–1996)
1975–76 Illinois 14–13 7–11 T–7th
1976–77 Illinois 16–14 8–10 6th
1977–78 Illinois 13–14 7–11 7th
1978–79 Illinois 19–11 7–11 7th
1979–80 Illinois 22–13 8–10 T–6th NIT Third Place
1980–81 Illinois 21–8 12–6 3rd NCAA Division I Sweet 16
1981–82 Illinois 18–11 10–8 6th NIT Second Round
1982–83 Illinois 21–11 11–7 T–2nd NCAA Division I Round of 48
1983–84 Illinois 26–5 15–3 T–1st NCAA Division I Elite Eight
1984–85 Illinois 26–9 12–6 2nd NCAA Division I Sweet 16
1985–86 Illinois 22–10 11–7 T–4th NCAA Division I Round of 32
1986–87 Illinois 23–8 13–5 4th NCAA Division I Round of 64
1987–88 Illinois 23–10 12–6 T–3rd NCAA Division I Round of 32
1988–89 Illinois 31–5 14–4 2nd NCAA Division I Final Four
1989–90 Illinois 21–8 11–7 T–4th NCAA Division I Round of 64
1990–91 Illinois 21–10 11–7 T–3rd
1991–92 Illinois 13–15 7–11 8th
1992–93 Illinois 19–13 11–7 T–3rd NCAA Division I Round of 32
1993–94 Illinois 17–11 10–8 T–4th NCAA Division I Round of 64
1994–95 Illinois 19–12 10–8 T–5th NCAA Division I Round of 64
1995–96 Illinois 18–13 7–11 9th NIT First Round
Illinois: 423–224 214–164
New Mexico State Aggies (Big West Conference) (1997–2000)
1997–98 New Mexico State 18–12 8–8* T–7th
1998–99 New Mexico State 23–10 12–4 1st NCAA Round of 64
1999–00 New Mexico State 22–10 11–5 7th NIT First Round
New Mexico State Aggies (Sun Belt Conference) (2000–2005)
2000–01 New Mexico State 14–14 10–6 T–2nd (West)
2001–02 New Mexico State 20–12 11–4 T–1st (West)
2002–03 New Mexico State 20–9 9–6 2nd(West)
2003–04 New Mexico State 13–14 6–9 T–4th (West)
2004–05 New Mexico State 5–13 1–4 (West)
New Mexico State: 135–86 66–46
Total: 779–412

      National champion         Postseason invitational champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion

New Mexico State ineligible for conference championship
* Record vacated due to NCAA infractions
Henson resigned on January 22, 2005 and was replaced that day by interim head coach Tony Stubblefield; their collective record in the 2004–05 season was 6–24 (1–14 Sun Belt) for a sixth-place finish in the Sun Belt West division.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Henson headed to College Basketball Hall of Fame". New Mexico State DIA. 2015-02-17. Retrieved 2015-02-17.
  2. ^ a b "Coach Lou Henson Selected to National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame". University of Illinois DIA. 2015-02-17. Archived from the original on 2015-02-17. Retrieved 2015-02-17.
  3. ^ a b "Lou Henson". New Mexico State University. 2004. Archived from the original on September 30, 2016.
  4. ^ Whalen, James D. (2005), Porter, David L. (ed.), "Henson, Louis Ray "Lou"", Basketball: A Biographical Dictionary, Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, pp. 206–207
  5. ^ Tate, Loren (2010-02-17). "Tate: Henson helped break basketball color barrier". The News-Gazette. Champaign, Ill. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
  6. ^ Supinie, John (2012-01-10). "Supinie: What does Lou have to do to get into the Hall?". Journal Star. Peoria, Ill. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
  7. ^ "Ex-NMSU, Illinois coach Henson back in chemotherapy". CBS Sportsline. Associated Press. 25 July 2007.
  8. ^ "Lou Henson to coach House team in charity hoops game". Santa Fe New Mexican. February 3, 2014. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  9. ^ "Lou Henson, winningest men's basketball coach at Illinois, New Mexico State, dies". ESPN.com. 2020-07-29. Retrieved 2020-07-29.

External links[edit]