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.
A Big Ten and @IlliniMBB legend has passed away.
Lou Henson – Hall of Fame head coach and architect of the Flyin’ Illini – was 88 years old. pic.twitter.com/rCD7YVPiiX
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) July 29, 2020
Hearing the news of my college coach Lou Henson passed away over the weekend! Lou taught us a ton of lessons that really kicked in as adults. Truly underrated coach and a great man. Rest easy Coach!
— Stephen Bardo (@stephenbardo) July 29, 2020
Our Mr. Basketball at the University of Illinois embodied everything we look for in a leader and in sports. An all-time leader in more than just wins. We’ll celebrate him and what he built at Illinois for years to come!! RIP LOU HENSON!! pic.twitter.com/3n8mn4nRfX
— Lovie Smith (@LovieSmith) July 29, 2020
So saddened & 💔 about the passing of the legendary Lou Henson after a long battle with cancer. What a fighter! I was honored to work for him & will never forget everything he did for me. Love you Coach! My condolences to Mary & the family. #LouDoo #FlyinIllini #IlliniHoops #HOF pic.twitter.com/Xjp2rOZITX
— Ryan Baker (@RyanBakerMedia) July 29, 2020
So sad to hear that the best coach I ever had has moved on. Lou Henson was royalty to me. He took me and shaped me and sent me on my way, but was always available to reset me when I was off. He and his Wife Mary took their first vacation since he had become a coach to attend my
— Eddie A Johnson (@Jumpshot8) July 29, 2020
WILL’s David Inge interviewed Henson for an episode of “Illinois Pioneers” in 2013.