LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The sports world lost legendary Louis “Lou” Ray Henson on July 25, 2020 in his home of Champaign, Illinois. Henson was 88 years old and had been suffering from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was diagnosed in 2003 and had faced many medical issues as a result. It was this diagnosis and the other issues that stemmed from it that finally pushed Henson to retire from coaching basketball for good in 2005.
“I have always been a very demanding coach. I expect my players to give 100 percent or they come out of the game. I can expect no less of myself, so because I am physically unable to give my all, I am taking myself out of the game,” said Henson when announcing his retirement from coaching during the 2004-2005 New Mexico State Men’s Basketball season.
Coach Henson worked at many different high schools and colleges throughout his life but the two coaching stints that stand out the most, according to several longtime fans, are the ones that took place at New Mexico State University and the University of Illinois. Coach Henson was, and still maintains the title of, the winningest coach in each of these schools’ basketball histories. Henson coached at New Mexico State University from 1966-75, then at the University of Illinois from 1975-96, and then back at New Mexico State from 1997-2005.
While Henson was at New Mexico State, he accumulated a total of 289 wins, and then a total of 423 at the University of Illinois. These wins, along with the many others from various universities, made his sum of victories a total of 779. This incredible accomplishment put Henson near and among other revered top coaches listed to have such a great number of career wins (almost 800 and more).
Some other awards and accomplishments that Henson racked up were: being one of the four NCAA coaches to have won a total of at least 200 games at two different universities, receiving the Big Ten Coach of the Year award in 1993, the Missouri Valley Coach of the Year award in 1975, the NABC Golden Anniversary Award in 2008, and being inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, according to the NCAA.
The NCAA stated that two notable highpoints from Henson’s career were when he led the 1970 New Mexico State men’s team to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, and then the University of Illinois team to the 1989 Final Four.
About six months ago, on February 15, Lou Henson, as well as the New Mexico State 1970 Final Four team, were featured and honored during the halftime of the New Mexico State vs. Utah Valley men’s basketball game. Henson could not be there in person but he did leave a video sentiment for the fans that was displayed on the jumbo screen. It was in this video that Henson said, “Man, I wish we could be there to spend the weekend with you. We love the Aggies and the state of New Mexico.”
New Mexicans loved Henson right back, said many of Henson’s former players and fans who all remember him as a great person, coach, and as the “G.O.A.T.” [Greatest Of All Time] who changed the course of New Mexico State athletics for the better. Henson is survived by his wife, Mary, and his three daughters, Leigh Anne, Lisa, and Lori.