Ex-Illini basketball coach ‘doing fine’ following cancer treatment

By Daniel Johnson

Former Illinois men’s basketball coach Lou Henson has again started treatment for cancer – the same intestinal non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma that he underwent treatment for four years ago.

Henson, 75, last coached with New Mexico State in the 2003-04 season and retired from coaching in January 2005. His Illini coaching career started in 1975 when he replaced Gene Bartow as head coach. In 1996, Henson ended his term with the Illini and returned to coach New Mexico in 1997.

Henson is undergoing chemotherapy at the Carle Cancer Center in Champaign.

“I’m doing fine, I have had it for years,” Henson said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Henson’s cancer had been in remission before but it returned again “two or three weeks ago,” he said.

“I’m getting treatment with the same doctor who diagnosed me,” Henson said. “Doctor Rowland is a tremendous oncologist.”

Health problems plaguing Henson have been of concern for the Illini basketball family the past few years following his retirement in 2004. In 21 years of coaching the Orange and Blue, Henson finished as Illinois’ all-time winningest coach with 423 wins. Prior to Illinois’ national runner-up finish in the 2005 NCAA tournament, Henson led the Illini to their best finish in school history in 1989, making the Final Four before eventually losing to Michigan in the national semifinal.

He finished his coaching career with 779 victories, good for eighth place on the all-time victories list.

“Our thoughts are obviously with coach Henson,” Assistant Athletic Director Kent Brown said in a telephone interview Thursday. “He is a very strong person and we are confident it is a very treatable thing. I expect him to attack it with the same vigor he did everything else.”

Henson had an 8 « hour session of chemotherapy on Tuesday and said that his doctors expect he will undergo another 10 months of therapy.

“Some days you feel good and can go play 18 holes like I did the other day,” Henson said. “Some days you don’t feel so good after and you can really tell you have been going through things.”

Some former players have been in touch with Henson and he has spoken with many others that have been very supportive of him, he said.

“I’m just happy things are working out well so far,” Henson said. “I’m very optimistic.”