Honors arriving for Henson

By Erik Hall

Lou Henson coached, recruited and treated everyone he met the right way for 41 years as a college basketball coach. Last weekend Henson announced his retirement due to poor health, but with the end of his career has come some deserved recognition.

“I am surprised that it took so long to come,” said Illinois-Chicago men’s basketball coach Jimmy Collins. Collins played for Henson at New Mexico State and served as Henson’s assistant coach at Illinois from 1983-1996. “It almost seems with some people they have to get sick or something tragic happens before they get their dues,” Collins said.

Recognition for Henson has come recently from the city of Champaign, New Mexico State University and the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Henson took his first college coaching job in 1962, the same year Johnny Carson started sitting behind a desk at The Tonight Show. Even after Johnny retired, Henson kept coaching 12 more years.

As a rookie college coach at Hardin-Simmons University, Henson demanded the ability to integrate his team. After four years at the university, Henson would have two stints as the head coach at New Mexico State, with his tenure at Illinois in between. He became the winningest coach at both schools, with 423 at Illinois and 289 at New Mexico State.

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“I just know that Lou has been one of the guys that has been a credit to this profession and one of the all-time winners in this profession,” said Temple coach John Chaney. “I certainly respect him highly. He has spent his life developing young men. I think he’s someone that should be considered for our hall of fame.”

Chaney was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2001. Henson, in his 17th year of eligibility, has his best shot of joining this year. For the first time, Henson is among the college basketball coaches nominated.

Henson joins college coaches Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Gene Keady among the 2005 nominees.

“There are people out here like me that think it’s a lot of bull that he’s just nominated, that he has not put on the orange jacket, or whatever they give you, years ago,” Collins said.

The announcement of the individuals chosen for the Naismith Hall of Fame will come during the Final Four.

“I know there are so many people that have good records and served for a long time,” Henson said. “There are a lot that I feel are more qualified to be in than I am. It might work out or it might not. If it doesn’t then that’s fine.”

Tuesday night, the city of Champaign joined in honoring Henson. The city council voted unanimously to give Henson honorary street signs with his name and will vote next week on whether to rename a section of First Street as Lou Henson Court.

“I think (naming the Assembly Hall court after Lou) should have been done the day he left,” said Les Wothke, a Henson assistant at Illinois from 1975-1979. “I think it would be a tremendous tribute to a tremendous man. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to do that. They’ve had great coaches there, but no one with longevity or record of Lou Henson.”

The court at New Mexico State’s Pan American Center was renamed Lou Henson Court on Feb. 9, 2002.

“I have one court named after me, that’s enough,” Henson said. “I’ve had all the recognition a fellow needs.”