Lou Henson inducted into National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

By Michal Dwojak, Assistant sports editor

Former Illinois men’s basketball head coach Lou Henson will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, it was announced Tuesday.

The 83-year-old coach led three schools — Hardin-Simmons, New Mexico State and Illinois — for a total of 41 years, retiring in 2005. The induction ceremony will take place on Nov. 20 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame is different from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The college Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 2006. Henson couldn’t help but be humble when thinking about his nod to the Hall.

“I’m just happy to be in there,” Henson told the media Tuesday. “I feel fortunate because there are a lot of great coaches that will never get this great honor.”

Henson was the head coach at Illinois from 1975-1996.  During his time at Illinois, he recorded a 423-224 record, a 214-164 record in the Big Ten, led his team to the NCAA tournament 12 times, won 20 games 11 times and reached three NIT tournaments. He still leads all Illinois coaches in wins and his career at Illinois was highlighted by the 1989 Flyin’ Illini run to the Final Four, where the team lost to eventual champion Michigan.

Henson also coached at Hardin-Simmons and had two stints at New Mexico State. His 775 career wins places him 10th in the NCAA all-time list.

In the late 1950s, Henson was a high school coach in Las Cruces, N.M. He was offered an assistant position at New Mexico State in 1962. At the same time, however, Hardin-Simmons in Albine, Texas, offered him a head coaching spot.

When he met with Hardin-Simmons officials, Henson experienced a moment that he still believes is the highlight of his career. He was interested in the job, but there was a problem: the school wasn’t integrated.

Henson made it clear to the board that he would not accept the job if the team wasn’t integrated. To make sure that it could secure the coach, Hardin-Simmons decided to integrate the team.

“What we did to integrate the team (was my biggest achievement),” Henson said. “I’m glad they made that decision.”

Henson is one of eight National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame inductees of the 2015 class. The other inductees are coaches Don Donoher (Dayton) and C. Felton “Zip” Gayles (Langston) and players Rolando Blackman (Kansas State), Quinn Buckner (Indiana), John Havlicek (Ohio State), Ed Ratleff (Long Beach State) and Charlie Scott (North Carolina).

Henson will attend the Final Four in Indianapolis this year, after which he will spend the summer months in Champaign. He’ll return to a community that he not only affected on the basketball court, but also beyond it.

“Coach Henson’s coaching record stands on it’s own, but his incredible leadership qualities over the decades stands out among all his peers,” Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said in a statement. “Lou and Mary have influenced the lives of thousands of people during Coach’s career, and this recognition into the Hall of Fame is certainly earned and well deserved.”

Michal can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @mdwojak94.