LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- Lou Henson, whose 41-year career as a collegiate head coach made him the all-time winningest basketball coach at both New Mexico State and Illinois, has died at the age of 88, according to NMSU.
“We have a tremendous sense of loss. It will never be the same without Lou. He has left a legacy that will last for many many years,” reacted NMSU Chancellor Dan Arizu. “It's like losing a loved one, it's like losing a parent. Someone who has made such a huge impact on our community, to lose them anytime is always a shock.”
NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia said the iconic coach's passing marked a "very sad day for Aggies Nation."
"Blessed to have known him," Moccia wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "Fortunate to attend his college Hall of Fame ceremony and the Final Four."
Henson was inducted to the Hall of Fame Class by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2015.
"When I began throwing a ball of rags through that handmade hoop on the side of our barn, I never could have imagined that the game of basketball would bring me to this point in my life. I have been truly blessed in many ways," he said at the time.
Henson had retired in 2005 at the age of 72 because he was physically unable to "give it his all," he said after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Henson was just 21 wins away from reaching 800.
Overall at 779 wins, Henson is sixteenth on the all-time list. Henson was also one of only four NCAA coaches to have amassed at least 200 total wins at two schools.
The basketball court at the Pan American Center at NMSU is named in his honor, as is the hardwood floor at the State Farm Center at the University of Illinois.
Henson began his coaching career at Las Cruces High School in 1956. After two years as junior varsity coach, Henson was head coach of the varsity team from 1958 to 1962 and won state championships in 1959, 1960, and 1961.
He started coaching in the college ranks in 1962 at Hardin-Simmons University. As a condition of taking the Hardin-Simmons job, Henson insisted that the team (and thus the school) be racially integrated, a condition to which the university agreed.
In 1966, he took over at his alma mater, NMSU. In his first season, the Aggies rebounded from a 4–22 record in the prior year to finish 15–11 and went to the NCAA Tournament. In 1970, Henson would help lead the Aggies to the Final Four for the only time in the school's history. Henson and future NBA players Jimmy Collins, Sam Lacey, and Charlie Criss lost in the semifinals to eventual champion UCLA.
Henson coached at NMSU for nine seasons, with six trips to the NCAA Tournament and four 20-win seasons.
In 1975, Henson moved to the University of Illinois. He would return to NMSU in 1997 as interim head coach and stayed on until his 2005 retirement; that second stint allowed him to regain his standing as NMSU's all-time winningest coach surpassing Neil McCarthy, whom he replaced.
Henson died on Saturday and was laid to rest on Wednesday by his family. He is survived by his wife Mary among others.
Very sad day @NMStateAggies NATION w/ the passing of @NMStateMBB iconic head coach Lou Henson! Blessed to have known him! Friend, advisor, landlord & much more! Prayers to Mary and their family! Fortunate to attend his College 🏀 HOF ceremony & Final Four https://t.co/KcOuyT0wng pic.twitter.com/bBLzwszeEz— Mario Moccia (@MarioMocciaNMSU) July 29, 2020
(CC BY-SA 3.0 contributed to this report.)