| Wins against Kentucky - 0 | Losses against Kentucky - 5 |
Alma Mater: New Mexico State 
Hometown: Okay, OK
Date Born: January 10, 1932
Date Died: July 25, 2020
Overall Record: 779-412 [41 Seasons]
|3/12/1999||Kentucky vs. New Mexico State||W||82 - 60||NCAA Midwest Regional First Round (at New Orleans, LA)|
|3/24/1984||Kentucky vs. Illinois||W||54 - 51||NCAA Mideast Regional Finals (at Lexington, KY)|
|12/24/1983||Kentucky at Illinois||W||56 - 54||-|
|12/11/1982||Illinois at Kentucky||W||76 - 57||-|
|12/1/1965||Hardin-Simmons at Kentucky||W||83 - 55||-|
Obituary - Chicago Tribune (July 29, 2020)
Lou Henson, who coached Illinois basketball to 12 NCAA Tournaments and the 1989 Final Four, dies at 88
by Shannon Ryan
Lou Henson, the beloved Illinois basketball coach who recorded the most victories in school history and guided the 1988-89 "Flyin' Illini" to the Final Four, died Saturday, the university confirmed. He was 88.
Henson coached for 41 years at three programs before retiring in 2005 from his second stint at New Mexico State. His 779 career victories, which rank 16th all time among NCAA Division I coaches, include 423 wins at Illinois.
During his time in Champaign, Henson was known for wearing a bright orange blazer to inspire fan spirit, his "Lou 'Do" hairstyle and - more than anything - bringing Illinois basketball back to national prominence during a 21-year tenure.
In retirement, he and his wife, Mary, sat courtside at many Illinois games, where he was greeted with chants of "Louuuu" from the crowd and had a procession of fans and former players shake his hand before and after games.
"He lived a full life of impact on a ton of people," said Stephen Bardo, who played for Henson from 1986 to 1990. "He left behind a whole Illini nation. People still revere him, and he's been gone (from coaching) awhile. He fought like hell. He was tough as hell. He lived what he used to teach us."
Henson guided Illinois to the NCAA Tournament 12 times and amassed a 423-224 record from 1975 to 1996. The Illini won only eight games the season before he was hired and hadn't appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 1963.
The peak came in the 1988-89 season, when the Flyin' Illini - featuring future NBA players Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Kenny Battle, Marcus Liberty and Bardo - went 31-5 and advanced to the Final Four before losing 83-81 to Michigan in a memorable game that featured 33 lead changes.
Henson led the Illini to 11 20-win seasons, the 1984 Big Ten championship and seven consecutive top-five seeds in the NCAA Tournament from 1984 to 1990. His 423 victories at Illinois rank fifth all time in the Big Ten.
None of it inflated Henson's undetectable ego.
"He was a coach that wanted to win," said Liberty, who played for Henson from 1988 to 1990. "Coach Henson was the type of coach who did it his way. So many times you hear stories of coaches adapting to players. He kept it his way and won doing it the way he envisioned the game being played."
He's one of only 14 coaches to lead multiple programs to the Final Four, having taken New Mexico State there in 1970. Henson also is the only coach other than John Wooden (UCLA and Indiana State) to have two courts named after him - at Illinois and New Mexico State.
Henson led Illinois to eight consecutive NCAA Tournaments (1983-90), reaching the Sweet 16 four times and the Elite Eight twice. The 1983-84 team lost 54-51 to Kentucky in a regional final.
After a two-year absence, the Illini returned to the NCAA Tournament in 1993, beginning a three-year run of appearances.
Henson retired from Illinois late in the 1995-96 season before returning to the bench at New Mexico State from 1997 to 2005.
He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015 for a coaching career that began in 1962 at Hardin-Simmons, where he helped racially integrate the program. His first stint at New Mexico State ran from 1966 to 1975.
Former players fondly recalled Henson's high-pitched voice and tinge of Oklahoma twang, often starting his requests with "Heeeey, guys." He frequently challenged his players' grit, preparing them for rough-and-tumble Big Ten play.
"He was funny in a way he knew he was being funny but wasn't going to let on," said Gene Cross, an Illini guard from 1990 to '94. "He would always talk about how tough he was: 'Burnt toast and raw eggs for breakfast.' He just had this way about him. It made you chuckle and understand the work that had to be done."
Arenas roared in the 1980s and early '90s when Illinois and Indiana played, as a rivalry bubbled between the programs and their coaches. Henson was a gentler foil to Indiana coach Bob Knight's bombastic style.
Deon Thomas, a prized recruit from Simeon who developed into the No. 1 scorer in program history, described Henson's coaching style as "quiet toughness."
"When he coached during games, he wasn't loud," said Thomas, who played at Illinois from 1990 to '94. "He was the opposite of a Bobby Knight. But he got his message across and showed that he cared about you. He was there to teach you, not to chastise you."
Henson maintained close ties with former players through the decades.
"Lou knew the nature of 18- to 22-year-old males," Bardo said. "That's a tough group to deal with. He had to have a tough edge. He was a strict disciplinarian. As much as he could show he cared about you, he would.
"But after you finished playing for him, you saw a totally different side we didn't know existed. He'd come up and hug you. Once you graduated, Lou was a guy you loved to have a beer with."
One of Henson's toughest moments came in 1992, when his son, Lou Henson Jr., died in a car accident at 35. Henson did not share his grief with his players, but they sensed how difficult that moment was for him.
"He never let anyone in that locker room see it," said Cross, who grew emotional Wednesday recalling the memory. "I think back now to how tough that had to have been. It speaks to a level of strength that he wanted conveyed to us."
Said Bardo: "When his son passed, he lost a little sparkle. I think (that's why) he would light up around his former players, walk-ons and managers. That was his space and solace for him."
In addition to supporting the Illini at various sporting events through the years, Lou and Mary Henson made frequent appearances at university functions. He is credited with starting the Orange Krush student section and the Rebounders booster club.
Henson was diagnosed in 2003 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and had setbacks and underwent chemotherapy treatments over the years.
An outpouring of remembrances in Champaign came forth after Henson's family released information about his death. Current Illinois coach Brad Underwood called him the "greatest coach in Illini history."
Henson was buried Wednesday in a private ceremony in Champaign.
"One thing I'll always remember is he had that fight," Liberty said. "He fought to the end. We all knew he was getting sick six to eight years ago. But he fought till the end, just like he did as a coach."
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