Lou Henson Court to grace renovated State Farm Center

Illinois’ head coach Lou Henson shaking hands with Indiana coach Bobby Knight following a 70-53 victory for the Illini in Champaign on March 4, 1984.

By Peter Bailey-Wells

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas announced Monday that the renovated State Farm Center will feature Henson Court, named for legendary Illini head basketball coach Lou Henson.

The logo features Henson’s signature, his trademark orange blazer and a pair of wings that is a reference to the 1989 Flyin’ Illini team that Henson led to the Final Four.

“The current renovation project at State Farm Center would probably not be possible if not for the success led by Coach Henson here at Illinois.” Thomas said. “This is a fitting tribute to one of the all-time great coaches and people to be associated with Illinois.”

Thomas added during his remarks that if Henson’s local popularity is such that if were to run for Mayor in Champaign or Urbana, he would win in a landslide.

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    Henson coached at Illinois from 1975-1996 and won 423 games. He also spent four seasons at Hardin-Simmons University and 17 years at New Mexico State. He won the 1984 Big Ten championship with the Illini, and is currently 16th on the all-time NCAA wins list.

    Known for his blazer and his  “Lou Do” hairstyle, the coach appeared to be in good spirits at Monday’s announcement at the 77 Club in Memorial Stadium. 

    He wore a mask and gloves prior to his appearance at the podium and held hands with his wife Mary, who accompanied him on the dias during the event. The 83-year-old is receiving regular chemotherapy treatments after a health scare this summer. He has previously battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

    He is set to be inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in November.

    The founding of the Orange Krush occurred during Henson’s time at the University and the coach and his wife hosted the first meeting of the organization in their home. 

    Henson is one of 11 coaches in NCAA history to take multiple programs to the Final Four. He led New Mexico State to the Final Four in 1970 — he is the winningest coach not only in Illinois history but in NMSU history as well — and his name is featured on the New Mexico court.

    “I never imagined my name might some day appear on the floor of this renowned arena,” Henson said. “I am humbled and impressed.”

    Henson took time during his statement to praise Thomas for the work he has done as Illinois athletic director and to laud his wife Mary. The pair has been married for 61 years and Henson said she has been his “head coaching partner” for those years. 

    State Farm Center is currently undergoing a $169 million renovation. The Illini will return to the arena on Dec. 2 against Notre Dame, but the project will not be 100 percent complete until 2016. According to associate athletic director Warren Hood, the project is on schedule and on budget, as of a recent media tour of the facility.

    Thomas said that a corporate sponsorship of the floor of the arena was “not how you go about honoring somebody like Lou,” and wanted Lou Henson Court to have no corporate association attached.

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